Dating Site Scammers: Over 50? They’re Lookin’ for YOU

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There’s a very odd film entitled The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone that gave me goosebumps in my youth. The original starred Vivian Leigh, as a disillusioned former Hollywood star of 50-something, who falls in love with a crafty, cold-hearted Italian gigolo, played by a very young and ridiculously beautiful Warren Beatty.

It’s like a cynical, “up yours” to all those schlocky Love Is A Many Splendored Thing and All That Heaven Allows romances of the 50s and 60s in which unlikely couples ignore societal taboos (Eurasian/White, Older Woman/Younger Man) and find true and lasting love.

In it, Mrs. Stone is emotionally abused by her young obsession and swept into a circle of rich, older American women living abroad apparently expressly to be entertained by what Beatty’s female “pimp” (a menacing, wizened Lotte Lenya) calls “little marquettas,” young men they wine and dine and dress in the finest clothes their husbands’ money can buy.

SPOILER ALERT: The sordid end struck me as remarkably grim for a film of that genre and era. Abandoned by her young love — who has found a much younger American actress promising fortune and fame — Mrs. Stone grabs the key to her apartment door from a table, wraps it in an expensive looking handkerchief, goes out on her terrace and flings the key down to the mysterious, threadbare but very pretty young man who has been stalking her like a starving animal throughout the film.

We leave her posed perfectly on a loveseat, best side forward, hands and feet placed just so, awaiting…well, whatever happens from then on, we’re sure it won’t be good.

I remember actually shuddering, as the door opened and the “boy” sloooooowly approached his prey. I was repulsed. But also fascinated.

My mother had a couple of friends who flaunted young “lovers,” who waited on them hand and foot, in exchange for the use of their retirement money, big, boat-like Cadillacs and summer homes on lakes in Michigan.

When chided, the women explained that men their age couldn’t “get around” anymore and they were quite literally not going “quiet into that good night.”

At the time, I felt “sorry” for them. They were so obviously being “used.” Today, already past their age, I understand them. A little bit.

Men our age are no longer as old in body, mind or spirit as they were back when. My generation is doing “old” very differently, thank God.

But we are still preyed upon — and in one way I hadn’t, but probably should have expected. Not by shady night stalkers, but by dating site scammers, who are dangerous on levels those film Lotharios couldn’t even have imagined.

It’s a pretty simple scam. Someone, or probably many someones, a lot of them from other countries apparently, scours Web sites frequented by older women — and men. Not just dating sites, but all kinds of “social” sites where older folks interact. I’m not sure how they choose their prey, and in fact, it may be quite random.

But once they’ve chosen you, you’re clumsily “cat fished.” There’s a photo or two — not Warren Beatty pretty, not always young though usually somewhat younger. Just a normal guy at work, at a sports event, whatever. Someone you’d see at the grocery store, on the golf course, just…Neighbor Joe.

The first messages are cordial and brief. He likes your profile, he likes your smile, he feels what a warm person you must be — again, nothin’ scary. Nice enough to get you to write back.

The next message is slightly longer. He’s almost always a widow who lost the “love of his life” a few years ago. He’s been avoiding the “dating scene,” because the very idea makes him nervous. And he asks you a few questions he “found” online, because he’s never been a good “talker” and isn’t sure how “this kind of thing works.”

And if you answer the message and the questions, the next message you receive is a wee bit too long, a wee bit too familiar and will include his own answers to the same questions. Perhaps with some strange grammatical and spelling errors that seem odd given how articulate Neighbor Joe has been thus far.

He will also ask you for an email address, so that the “conversation” can flow more freely. Now, many years ago, when my women friends and first tried a few sites like these, we weren’t the least bit afraid to give someone our email addresses or, in some cases, phone numbers, once the online “banter” had reached a certain point.

The sites warned against it, but in the end, almost all of us met a few nice guys who became friends in some cases. No harm done.

How times change.

Now, though I hadn’t been on a dating site for years, I do have have several email addresses designed to keep “non-essential” email out of my business and “inner circle” Inboxes.

That way, if something creepy happens I can get rid of that email addy without regret. I also create rules that delete unwanted mail, but many elders don’t know how to even begin to do that.

And that’s what they’re counting on, finding someone who will click on that emailed link or logo or photo so that they can “lock” their computers and demand all kinds of big bucks to “unfreeze” them. Some will insist that the computer can only be salvaged by allowing a “tech” to remotely control it for a few minutes. The “bug” is thus planted, the damage easily done.

But first, the chase continues. The messages escalate in passion and “intimacy” at an alarming rate and intensity.

But again, and more frequently, some bits, especially the first paragraph or so, will be perfectly written. Other bits, later in the letter, will be rather haphazardly composed. The effusive compliments and fervent “manifestos” on what true love is become repetitive and far too lengthy.

Your questions are no longer answered. The letters feel as if old Joe has stopped reading what you write. He’s in a fantasy romance of his own making. And I can imagine that there are many lonely ladies out there who go right on into that fantasy world with him. Rationalizing the strange stuff.

But I don’t have that kind of time. And I’m not looking for the Big Romance. I just want to go out on the town now and then, and to have someone kinda cool to talk to. A little male energy, from time to time, is all I seek.

So it didn’t take me long to let Neighbor Joe know that I was alarmed by all the “dears” and “honeys” and “my loves” and “sweeties” and impassioned oaths. And that he seemed to have forgotten that he was talking to a woman he had never met, about whom he knew virtually nothing other than a few answers to a list of innocuous questions he’d “found” somewhere.

He then begged for my phone number, so that we could talk to each other more easily and personally. Or at least text, if I wasn’t ready for that.

I wasn’t. But I relented. I have a Google number for that, too. But after a few really lame text sessions, I exiled him completely.

And almost immediately began to notice a trickle of emails with strangely worded subject lines and even stranger sender addresses. And sometimes, a call or text from someone I definitely didn’t know. Special offers. Charity pleas. Some well composed with authentic looking graphics. Others decidedly wonky looking.

And after a few months, when I joined another dating site a friend recommended…it happened again. Same introductory info, same questions, too. When I said as much, the hapless suitor disappeared. And the little trickle of emails began again.

I didn’t jettison the addy because, as I’ve said, I know how to have them automatically deleted. But I was both annoyed and alarmed. There’s a part of me that wants to know what else these scammers might be doing out there.

Luckily, even before the Equifax snafu, I was very attentive to my credit reports and monthly statements, so I haven’t seen anything unusual there. I also check my Internet account regularly. I’m good about things like that.

But I have received a few notices that someone has tried to buy something on ITunes or a similar site, something small, inexpensive, not too obvious, using one of my disposable email addresses. They get the password wrong too many times, or something else triggers the notification.

It’s a “test” run, I think. To see if I’ll notice and how much protection I have. In this day and age you can never have enough. But I do try.

So that key Mrs. Stone flung from her terrace is now an email address. The “marquetta” some shady dude maybe in Russia, slaving over a hot keyboard all day, looking for older women who don’t have a clue.

Are you next, sistah girl? Just a heads up…

Award-winning former features reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and Arizona Daily Star, HuffPo contributor and author.

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