By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger.org
Advocates failed to get legislation passed this year to address online dating scams, but that hasn’t stopped them from informing Vermonters about the multimillion-dollar industry.
AARP Vermont says scammers disproportionately target senior citizens on legitimate dating sites like Match.com, develop online relationships with them and then claim they are in emergencies in order to be sent money.
“These romance scams take a little more time for the criminal to nurture . . . and then what happens is the criminal finds himself in a purported difficulty and says, ‘I need $5,000,’” said Greg Marchildon, executive director of AARP Vermont.
The scammers are often from places in Eastern Europe or Africa, especially Nigeria, according to the Attorney General’s Office, and victims rarely report the incidents because they feel too embarrassed to come forward. Seven people in Vermont have reported scams totaling $47,000 so far this year, said Janet Murnane, a deputy attorney general for the Consumer Assistance Program. Another 18 people reported scams in 2014, totaling about $65,000.
“We think that’s a very small report,” Murnane said.
The Vermont House passed preliminary, first-of-its-kind legislation this year to require online dating companies to disclose to Vermont users which profiles or usernames have been banned for participating in the so-called “catfishing” scams.
But the online dating provision of S.73, the consumer protection bill that Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Tuesday, did not make it through negotiations between the House and the Senate. Lawmakers say they ran out of time and will revisit the issue in January.