She’s been dubbed the Scammer Detector – a silver-haired commander-in-chief patrolling the minefield that is online dating for seniors.
She may be 71 and a great-grandmother, but Suzanne Parker has proved there’s no age limit on good old-fashioned common sense – along with a fine nose for a dodgy piece of work.
The widow from Bristol in the UK is unbending in her quest to hunt down the phoneys who use dating sites to con older people out of their money. And she’s found a foolproof way of doing so: trust your instincts and do your homework.
“The reason I’m on dating sites is because at my age it’s difficult if not almost impossible to meet someone unless you go to pubs or clubs,” Suzanne says.
“But it’s proving really hard when there are people online preying on lonely, vulnerable women. As soon as I get a hunch that someone isn’t all they’re pretending to be, I play them at their own game.”
And after 16 years, it’s safe to say she’s nailed it.
“Not to blow my own horn, but I’m pretty good at spotting fakes now,” she says.
Suzanne, a care assistant in a dementia home, turned to online dating after her husband, John, died of lung disease in 2004. One of his last requests was that she find love again.
“I remember us sitting in the garden and him saying I had to make an effort to have someone special in my life after he’s gone,” Suzanne recalls.
When she was ready, she turned to the internet for companionship and romance but found out the hard way that she not only needed to guard her heart – but she needed to guard her bank account too.
Suzanne fell hard for a man several years ago. “He was going to move in with me,” she says. “I spent £2 000 (now about R45 000) on a new shower and fridge freezer for the house. Then he dumped me by text.”
It was her first taste of how cruel the online dating world could be. She took time out for a while before returning and quickly found herself sniffing out the charlatans.
There are all sorts of alarm bells when it came to profiles.
“Men claiming to be ‘widowed with no children’ alongside pictures of very handsome men – that screamed scammer,” she says, adding she’s become “somewhat obsessed” with catching deceivers.
“I’ve turned into one of those fly-eating plants, just waiting to trap them.”
If a man claims he can speak multiple languages, she researches the lingo and throws in a few phrases. If the guy goes quiet – bingo!
She also traps them with simple geographical phrases. “I ask about the area they live in and bring up landmarks,” she says.
“Recently I was messaging a fake who said he lived in Bath [in England] so I suggested we meet at the Radcliffe Camera. He said it was a splendid idea. But the Radcliffe Camera is in Oxford.”
On one site alone she reported 12 men she believed were fakes, judging by their profiles alone.
The men were later removed from the site. A further 72 were blocked because their profiles were deemed inappropriate.
The lengths some men will go to try to scam people is ridiculous, Suzanne says.
One claimed he was working on an oil rig and needed money. He was widowed and lonely, he said, and “warmly welcomed” Suzanne’s company.
“It was downright suspicious,” she says. “I asked him how he got food and he said a takeaway on the mainland flew him pizzas in. At that point I knew he was a scammer and a stupid one at that.”
Another chance-taker told Suzanne he was on a contract in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and needed £1 000 (R22 500) because his debit card chip wasn’t working and he was stranded.
“He must’ve thought I was as green as cabbage.”
One of the most convincing was a guy claiming to be an orthopaedic surgeon working in a field hospital in Afghanistan.
He was “quite exceptional”, Suzanne says, and knew many medical terms.
“But I started getting a bit suspicious when he offered to delay his ward rounds until 10pm to speak to me. I’ve worked in hospitals all my life – you can’t delay a ward round to speak to your girlfriend!”
He was the closest she’s come to being scammed, she admits. “I got to the point of buying a train ticket to visit him when he was home on leave. It was only £30 (now R675), but I feel silly now.
“This is when I suddenly realised how very easy it is to get sucked into their lies and deceit.”
Suzanne keeps a mailing list of fellow older online daters to whom she sends tips on how to spot a scammer – but that’s about the length of her involvement in the world of online dating right now.
She recently embarked on a relationship with a 58-year-old London man she calls Mr Wonderful – and yes, she met him online.
Suzanne admits at first she didn’t believe he was real, especially since he said he’d never been married and had no children.
“His profile picture was quite handsome so obviously I was on high alert,” she says.
“I actually accused him of being a scammer, but he isn’t.
“Before the lockdown, he came to see me on the Friday, leaving on the Monday. No one who wasn’t for real would pay for a train ticket to see me. Now, we text every day.”
The first time they met in person, he took her to an ATM to show her his bank balance to put her mind at ease.
Romantic? That’s debatable. But as far as Suzanne is concerned, caution comes before romance.
“I’ve seen women my age being burned badly,” she says. “I never like to use the world ‘gullible’ when it comes to women who fall for outlandish stories – I prefer vulnerable.
“Loneliness is a killer. Your heart gives a little leap when you get a message and if things are going well, you want to believe this person is The One.
“But you have to be careful. There’s so much cruelty and greed out there.”
- His profile picture seems too good to be true. “A professional-looking photo ?of a drop-dead gorgeous man with a ?brilliant smile or seriously sexy look ?is a warning sign,” she says.
- He has a pet in his picture. “Scammers will do anything to tug at your heartstrings.”
- There’s a lapse in conversation. “Sometimes you may be asked the same thing twice in reasonably quick succession. This could mean you’ve been passed on to someone else who’ll now continue the contact. Perhaps the other one has gone home or even for his lunch break.”
- He requests money. “Run. And report, report, report.”