Senior online dating safety: What older adults and caregivers need to know

Dec. 19, 2020

When you hear about online dating, you might think of young singles swiping for hook-ups on Tinder. But more and more, older adults are looking for a partner on apps and senior dating sites. A Pew Research Center survey from 2019 found that 19% of adults aged 50 to 64 and 13% of adults 65 and up have tried it. 

While these platforms offer a convenient way to find other singles, especially in the age of COVID, they can also pose technical challenges and safety concerns. Amie Leadingham, an online dating expert and dating coach based in Los Angeles, says older adults often make the mistake of treating online dating like traditional dating. “For example, they allow someone to pick them up at their house on the first date, which can pose personal safety issues,” she says. 

Leadingham has also encountered many seniors who take their online crush’s statements at face value without properly vetting them. “They could be a scammer trying to prey on the sympathy of others and create an emotional relationship to scam singles for money or more,” she notes.

Whether you’re a senior interested in dating, or if you’re a caregiver for a single older adult, here’s how to maintain safety while looking for love online. 

Online dating for seniors: The pros and cons

When an older adult becomes single due to divorce or death, they may feel scared to start dating again. They may also feel profoundly lonely, especially if their friends are coupled up. Loneliness was often considered the top killer of seniors —  even before the pandemic, says Lisa M. Cini, an aging expert based in Columbus, Ohio, and author of “BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology.” 

“Now with being quarantined, depression is at an all-time high,” Cini explains. “Online dating can add that spark back into your life, since getting out of your pajamas and robe and putting your best foot forward is a great way to start feeling better and connect with others.”

While romantic relationships are often the goal, Cini notes, the matchmaking abilities of online dating tools can still introduce you to friendships that offer connection. 

Online dating websites are filled with well-intentioned daters, but scammers also use them to take advantage of those looking for love. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost a whopping $201 million to romance scams in 2019, and these crimes are on the rise. With increased awareness of what to look out for, senior daters and their caregivers can help reduce the chances of falling victim to a scam. 

How older adults can avoid online dating scams

Older adults should be fully aware of online dating best practices and potential red flags before they fire up a profile. If you’re a senior ready to start swiping, or the caregiver for a senior, consider these safety guidelines from experts. 

Don’t share personal information 

This includes your address, birthdate or Social Security number or any other information that could be used for identity theft or fraud. Additionally, senior dating site OurTime.com encourages daters to avoid sharing details about their daily routine, and if they’re parents, limiting how much they reveal about their children. 

Never reveal financial information or give money 

If you’re asked to do this, it’s a sure sign of a scam, Cini says. 

Audrey Lindt is a 64-year-old woman who ventured into online dating after a divorce and wrote a memoir about it, “Misadventures in Mature Dating.” Lindt found that scams aren’t always overt and may look like harmless excuses, like the suitor saying they can’t access email or a bank account and need just a little financial help for an emergency. Scams may also involve the person asking you to wire money or purchase or reload gift cards, the FTC says

Be wary of frequent excuses to avoid video chats or meetups 

Be cautious if someone wants to only be a penpal and build an emotional relationship without ever talking or meeting, Leadingham says. This could be a sign they’re not who they say they are or are hiding something. 

“Once I talked to a man for three months, and it felt like a fairy tale, until I realized he was not a real person and appeared to be a scam,” Lindt says. “It’s a real jungle out there, and I enjoyed the conversations and characters, but from the beginning I had to face the truth that not all men on there are real, and not everything they’re saying is true.” She found that if someone always claims to have phone problems or can’t access a camera, it’s likely a scam. 

Don’t fall too hard too fast 

The FTC warns that scammers often try to woo victims by professing love quickly or love bombing. For that reason, it’s wise to go slow while avoiding getting caught up in emotion and rushing past red flags. “Pay attention to the sob stories that tug for your sympathy, and don’t fall for them,” Leadingham recommends.

Pay attention to their career 

It’s common for scammers to say they have a specific profession that keeps them away and unable to meet in person. The FTC has found that some of the most common lines are that the person is in the military, an international doctor, working on an oil rig or otherwise traveling outside of the U.S. 

Keep your communication on the app or website for a while 

“It’s so important before giving out your personal information to stay on the app to chat until you really trust someone,” says Leadingham. Those looking to take advantage of daters often try to move communication off the platform, where messages aren’t closely monitored. “On some dating apps, people aren’t allowed to send pictures, links or attachments, which will deter a lot of romance scammer and hacker-type behaviors,” notes Leadingham. If you do eventually move to the phone, she adds, set up a Google Voice number to help protect your phone number and identity. 

How older adults can maintain personal safety on dates

Once you’ve connected with someone and want to take it to the next level, here are some ways to ensure safety on dates:

  • Start with a virtual date. Leadingham says this is even wiser during the pandemic, but having a video chat — or ideally a few — can help you gauge if the person is who they say they are, she notes. 

  • Stick to a plain backdrop. If you’re having a video chat date, be cautious about showing too much of the interior of your home, Cini says. You don’t want someone new to be able to figure out either where you live or to inadvertently show off your valuables. 

  • Meet in public. When you are meeting someone new in person, don’t meet in a private home. Instead, Cini says, meet in an open public area, like a park or cafe. And you shouldn’t let someone pick you up at home until you’re at a point where you feel you can trust them, says Leadingham. 

  • Designate a safety buddy. Make sure at least one friend or family member knows where you are when you meet up with someone, Cini urges, and ask them to call you part-way through the date to check in. 

  • Know your limits. If you’re meeting in person over drinks, limit your alcohol intake to two drinks so you can stay mindful of your surroundings, Leadingham says. “Your goal is to get to know each other, so it’s key that you say sober to do this,” she explains. You want to remain aware not only of your personal safety, but of your personal belongings. 

  • Tune into your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, find a way to end the date early. “If something feels like a red flag, don’t ignore it — trust your gut and leave,” Leadingham says.

What to know about dating during the pandemic

Depending on your location and personal risk factors, it may not be safe to go on in-person dates until COVID-19 transmission risk is far less prevalent. And even once you’re able to get vaccinated, public health measures like social distancing, hand-washing and mask wearing will likely continue until we’ve reached a certain level of widespread vaccination.

If you do decide to meet in person, Leadingham says it’s best to find a public place where you can safely physically distance. But better yet: Go on dates over Zoom or another video chat platform.

Cini recommends getting some inexpensive lighting and placing your camera at eye height, which can easily be done by stacking your computer screen or laptop on some books.

How caregivers can support seniors who want to start swiping

Jumping into the world of online dating may be nerve-racking regardless of age, but it can be especially harrowing if you’re the child of a senior dater who you fear is at risk of being scammed. If you’re in that boat, Leadingham advises having an open dialogue with your loved one, sharing the benefits but also the red flags they need to look out for before dating.

Leadingham says there are plenty of resources out there that can help both adult children and their senior parents feel more confident about this big step. “There are books, online classes and dating coaches like myself that can help your single parent get prepared,” she explains. “This might not only save them from heartache, but can keep them safe as well.”

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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