Seven years later, McClellan and his partner had a healthy enterprise. Then the pandemic hit and “healthy” became “booming,” as people stuck at home turned to the internet to meet new people and pass the time. Calls and emails to the AARP Fraud Watch Network confirm a recent surge in romance scams targeting older Americans.
How do background-check firms like Social Catfish, BeenVerified and TruthFinder help? For a small monthly fee, customers can access tools that help locate people’s background information, such as former addresses and employment history. In addition, some sites have a “reverse image” search function, where customers can upload a photo to check whether it’s authentic. Social Catfish, which specializes in romance scams, offers a more costly service as well: A staffer will research and create a full report on the person in question.
I asked McClellan how his customers break down between men and women, and he said that subscribers are split roughly 50-50 (clearly, we’re all vulnerable). I also asked what percentage of the people that his business investigates turn out to be scammers. “About 70 percent,” he responded, pointing out that most of his clients turn to his firm only when they’ve seen some kind of red flag, usually a request for money.
Clues of fraud can be easy to spot. To start, many romance scammers use the same fake photos; often, he said, they’ll steal pics of attractive people in military uniforms or porn stars (dressed, of course) or popular posters on social networks. The commonality? All have proven they’ll draw lots of eyeballs. McClellan added that scammers use the same scripts, with the same canned phrases, over and over. Plus, he said, it’s not uncommon for scammers to be involved with multiple victims at one time and to spend hours on the phone with the same person. “They see it as a full-time job.”