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Older Women And The Pitfalls Of Looking For Love By Logging On

Dec 8, 2015
Originally published on December 8, 2015 8:22 am

Being older than 65, single and looking for romance has never been easy, and for women, who outnumber single men, it's especially challenging. The Internet is making it easier for older women, who didn't grow up with the Web, to get outside their social circles for dating and romance, but it can make them more vulnerable to deception.

Kimberly Bodfish, who's single and 65+, has discovered what many people already know about dating online: People are a little generous about themselves in their profiles.

"I must have gone on 200 dates," Bodfish says. "I would say 95 percent of the men used the dating service to go out and not to have a relationship — no matter what they say or not. And most of them, their profile is totally not what they are."

The Susan Seidelman film Boynton Beach Club from 2006, which her mother helped produce, nails the social scene for older women. In one scene, recently widowed character Jack gets get a bit of a pep talk from his pal, Harry. "I come here for over a year. There's an 8-to-1 woman-to-man ratio," he says. "I swear I've never been so popular in my life."

And while the odds aren't quite that bad for single women over 65, they're close. Women live longer, so there are simply more of them. And of the men who are still around, 70 percent are still married. That's true of only 45 percent of the women, according to data tracked by AARP.

When older women go looking online, they are more likely to be targets of Internet scams. NPR spoke with a retired flight attendant in Georgia, who is divorced and in her 60s. She asked that we not use her real name because of the delicate nature of her story. Her friends urged her to try the dating site Match.com — and she got a message from a gentleman who sounded nice.

"I thought 'Wow, how could one person get so basically lucky, blessed, whatever the term may be, to have found someone so quickly because he definitely came on with all the right words,' " she says. He sent her roses and texted and emailed her constantly. That's the part of the Internet that's different: It's easier to become emotionally intimate with someone quickly, and communication is instant.

The man told her he was outside the country but would be home at Christmas and they would finally meet. But, then, she says, "he had encountered some problems. He was an engineer supposedly in Malaysia, and he said that he had been attacked from the back. Someone had [stolen] his briefcase and all the cash he had on him."

First, he asked her to lend him $5,000 for a ticket home. He'd also lost his credit cards and needed to borrow money to pay some inspectors on his project. And, before she knew it, she says she was duped into giving him $150,000.

"So immediately, when he didn't appear at Christmas — and by the way I bought him a sweater thinking he was really gonna be here. And I don't have to tell you, emotionally I started falling apart," she says.

She is working with federal authorities to catch the culprit. Last year, the FBI received thousands of complaints from women like her. The FBI reports just in 2014 alone, Americans lost more than $86 million in online romance scams, $50 million of which came from women older than 50.

Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington who consults for AARP, says scammers are very skilled at seducing.

"And they'll test the waters to see how lonely, how warm, how open, how generous, how naïve," she says. "I mean, some of these women, they haven't had a partner since their husband of 50 years."

Schwartz says AARP and law enforcement are working to get the word out on these scams, but she thinks it shouldn't deter women from using the Internet for dating. It does increase the odds — and that's why we're not going to end this piece without a happy story.

"Women shouldn't be afraid to go on Match.com. Yes, you will meet some frogs, but there's a chance you might meet a prince," says Lola McCracken, 73. It's there that she met Stuart Gordon, 78.

"I felt like he was my soul mate. Even before we even met we were corresponding, and that was one of the great advantages I think with meeting online," she says.

McCracken, a retired college professor, lived in Atlanta. Gordon, a retired lawyer, lived in Virginia. They are now married. McCracken says they never would have met without the Internet.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Being over 65 and looking for romance was never easy. It's especially hard for women, who outnumber men by that age. The Internet is making things a bit easier, so long as women can navigate a world of new technology and classic scams. NPR's Laura Sydell adds now to our reporting on the changing lives of women.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: To find out about life as a single older woman before the Internet, I tapped into the memories of some women at one of San Francisco's senior centers.

BOBBIE SMITH: Yeah, I mean, what did you have, bars, churches?

KIMBERLY BODFISH: Or fix-ups.

LOUISE VOGEL: Churches.

BODFISH: Fix-up - have your friends fix up.

SMITH: If you had kids, maybe a PTA, I don't know, you know?

VOGEL: But it was very limited in the radius of where these people lived.

SYDELL: That's Bobbie Smith, Kimberly Bodfish and Louise Vogel - all are single and 65-plus. They think the Internet is swell.

BODFISH: I think it's improved life all around.

SMITH: Totally, totally.

VOGEL: Because we can use it to whatever need we want, whether it is Internet dating or meet-ups.

SYDELL: And when it is, Kimberly Bodfish says she discovered what many people already know about dating online. People are a little more generous about themselves in their profiles.

BODFISH: And I must have gone on 200 dates.

SMITH: What?

VOGEL: Wow.

BODFISH: Yeah. I would say 95 percent of the men used the dating service to go out and not to have a relationship no matter what they say or not. And most of them, their profile is totally not what they are.

SYDELL: It's been a steep learning curve. The Susan Seidelman film "Boynton Beach Club" from 2006, which Seidelman's mother helped produce, nails the social scene for older women.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYNTON BEACH CLUB")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As club leader) We have a new member today. I'd like you all to meet Jack. Jack, welcome to the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As club members) Hi, Jack.

(APPLAUSE)

SYDELL: Recently widowed character Jack Goodman gets a bit of a pep talk from his pal Harry.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYNTON BEACH CLUB")

JOSEPH BOLOGNA: (As Harry) I've come here for over a year. There's an 8 to 1 women-to-man ratio. I swear to God, I've never been so popular in my life.

SYDELL: And while the odds aren't quite that bad for single women over 65, they're close. Women live longer, and so there are simply more of them. And of the men who are still around, 70 percent are married - that's true of only 45 percent of the women, according to data tracked by the AARP. And when older women go looking online, they're more likely to be the targets of Internet scams. I spoke with a retired flight attendant in Georgia who preferred not to use her name because of the delicate nature of her story. She's divorced, in her 60s. Her friends urged her to try the Internet dating site match.com. She got a message from a gentleman who sounded nice.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And I thought wow, how could one person get so basically lucky, blessed, whatever the term may be, to have found someone so quickly because he definitely came on with all the right words.

SYDELL: He sent our subject roses, texted and emailed her constantly. That's part of the Internet that's different. It's easy to feel a sense of intimacy quickly and communication is instant. The man told her he was outside the country, but would be home at Christmas and they would finally meet. But then...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He had encountered some problems. He was an engineer supposedly in Malaysia, and he said that he had been attacked from the back. Someone had stolen his briefcase and all the cash he had on him.

SYDELL: First, he asked her to lend him $5,000 for a ticket home. But he'd also lost his credit cards and needed to borrow money to pay some inspectors on his project. And before she knew it, she was duped into giving him $150,000.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So immediately when he didn't appear at Christmas - and by the way, I bought him a sweater thinking he was really going to be here - and I don't have to tell you emotionally I started falling apart.

SYDELL: The victim is working with federal authorities to catch the culprit. Last year, the FBI received thousands of complaints from women like her. The FBI reports that in 2014 alone, Americans lost over $86 million in online romance scams, 50 million of which came from women over 50. Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington who consults for the AARP says scammers are very skilled at seducing.

PEPPER SCHWARTZ: And they'll test the waters to see how lonely, how warm, how open, how generous, how naive - I mean, some of these women, you know, they haven't had a partner since their husband of 50 years - they haven't dated.

SYDELL: Schwartz says AARP and law enforcement are working hard to get the word out on these scams. But she thinks it shouldn't deter women from using the Internet for dating. It does increase the odds. And that's why we're not going to end this piece without a happy story.

LOLA MCCRACKEN: Women shouldn't be afraid to go on match.com. And yes, you will meet...

STUART GORDON: Frogs.

MCCRACKEN: You'll meet some frogs. But there's a chance you might meet a prince.

SYDELL: That's 73-year-old Lola McCracken. And that male voice you heard is 78-year-old Stuart Gordon. They met on match.com.

MCCRACKEN: I felt like he was my soul mate, even before we even met. We were corresponding, and that was one of the great advantages I think with meeting online.

SYDELL: McCracken, a retired college professor, lived in Atlanta. Gordon, a retired lawyer, lived in Virginia. They are now married. McCracken says we never would have met without the Internet. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.