Romance scams are on the rise. How to protect your heart — and wallet.

This Valentine’s Day, many older Americans will be looking for love online. About a third of people age 50 and older turned to a dating app or website in the past year, according to data from the Pew Research Center released this month. And while dating sites like Match and eHarmony can be great platforms for finding a real connection, older adults should be aware of the potential for love scams online.

Love scams are a growing threat: American victims of all ages reported losing nearly $1 billion in 2021 alone, according to the FBI. Scammers create fake dating profiles and pose as someone else to gain your trust and affection, sometimes chatting multiple times a day. Then they start asking for money and use your blossoming relationship to manipulate and steal from you. Even the smartest of us can fall prey to fake lovers who want to take advantage of our desire to feel a connection.

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Older Americans and retirees are particularly vulnerable to financial fraud. That’s because many have built up significant financial resources through lifelong savings. They could also be perceived as a lack of digital literacy, although this is quickly becoming an outdated assumption, according to Pew. With 43% of adults 65 and older reporting being single, many are actively seeking long-term relationships.

Unfortunately, the embarrassment and shame that often comes with being a victim can discourage people from reporting these crimes, making it difficult to track the scale of the problem and stop these scammers.

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During my career as Citi’s Global Head of Fraud Prevention and a former FBI Special Agent, I’ve seen financial fraud continue to evolve from burgeoning opportunistic situations to sophisticated digital operations — and love scams are certainly no exception. Luckily I’m here to assure you that your love life is far from doomed; and you can stay completely safe while searching for love online by taking a few simple steps.

The most important thing you can do is learn how to avoid getting scammed in the first place.

  • When you meet, be sure to share identifying information like your job or location, as scammers can use this information against you.
  • Conduct your conversations on trusted dating websites and apps rather than texting, as sharing your phone number before you’ve confirmed the relationship can cause problems.
  • Never send money or gifts to anyone you have not met personally. Ask to share your feelings And Your finances are an important warning signal.

Here’s one final — and important — piece of advice: don’t let romance scammers stop you from finding love online. While the threat of fraud can be a concern, older Americans may have positive experiences with dating apps and websites. However, if you suspect your online relationship is a fraud, it’s important to stop all contact immediately and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The reality is that today’s scammers are savvy and there is no guarantee that you will never be a victim of a scam. However, you can take proactive steps to improve your ability to spot a romance scammer and avoid becoming a victim.

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Watch out for red flags when dating online and always protect your personal information. No matter how in love you may be, always remember to listen to your head – not your heart. To all older Americans looking for love this Valentine’s Day, let’s make sure the only thing you’re getting into is “the one” — and not the one who’s planning on stealing your money.

Mike Steinbach is Global Head of Fraud Prevention, Citi Personal Banking and Wealth Management.

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