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

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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 — 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 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.

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