Middle-aged love rats preying on elderly women have alarmed private investigators.
The younger men seduce senior citizens and some sift through obituaries to find freshly widowed women, Julia Hartley Moore said.
"The men in their 50s are just scamming these women out of everything.
"What I'm really getting which is kind of disturbing, is women in their 80s and men in their 50s," she told the Herald.
Hartley Moore said the love rats tried to drive wedges between the women and their families.
"The guys try to alienate them, and pretty much succeed."
Loneliness was a major reason older women fell for the younger Lotharios, she said.
Some scammers scoured obituaries, find the target's address and make an approach.
The first contact might involve visiting the elderly woman's home and offering to perform services around the house.
Hartley Moore said an opening line might be: "Your house looks like it could use a paint. Is there anything I can do for you?"
The method resembled a tactic some of the infamous "unruly tourists" used two years ago.
Two brothers from that group approached an Auckland man of 79, offering to clean his roof. They later insisted more work was needed, eventually taking almost $20,000.
Today's love rat scammers usually targeted women in wealthy neighbourhoods, Hartley Moore said.
She said concerned relatives would approach private investigators.
"All of a sudden their mother's withdrawn. She doesn't seem to need them to take her out."
Sometimes concerned family members had their motives questioned, with insinuations about inheritance money.
But Hartley Moore said her clients would tell her: "My aunt can leave it to the SPCA, the Cancer Foundation, but I don't want my aunt to give it to this guy."
Sometimes the male con artists were even older.
"I met a client who met the guy at a car wash. They like the same things. She ended up giving him $900,000, and she was one of many," Hartley Moore added.
"This guy was in his 70s and she was in her 60s but usually it's an older woman and a man about 20 years her junior."
The scammers led double lives, and Hartley Moore said many of them had sexual affairs with the older women.
"The guys are married, with families, and they're taking home the spoils of their work to their own family."
She said a scammer's wife might believe her husband was altruistically helping the elderly woman.
Hartley Moore said the charlatans sometimes devised glamorous or exotic-sounding back stories.
She said one man who had lied about his national origins and place of residence was using the target's money to fund his gambling habit.
"We used to get a lot of them," a former New Zealand Police fraud squad detective said. "Members of the family try to stop the elderly relative."
Many of these romance scams targeting the elderly were carried out purely online, frequently from overseas.
"Sometimes they are here, but they're not who say they are," the retired detective added.
Phil Jones from Omega Investigations said elderly people would be especially vulnerable if no relatives were looking out for them.
"If somebody's on their own and hasn't got any family members to support them, you wouldn't hear about it," Jones said.
"We'd only get a complaint if the family member recognised it and came to us."
Fraud expert and author Bronwyn Groot of QRisk said she'd had clients concerned about men targeting elderly female relatives.
"I don't think it's so much naivete. Anyone is susceptible to this type of scam. All you have to be is vulnerable," Groot said.
"If they're not targeting you online, they're targeting you on your doorstep."
She knew of a gardener who befriended an elderly woman and soon persuaded her into buying him cars and motorcycles.
Sometimes scam victims refused to go to police, because they still believed their exploiter was a nice person.
"Like any abusive relationship, they will start isolating the older person, isolating the victim, maybe going into the bank with the victim."
She said the United States had strengthened legal protections against elder abuse.
America's Elder Abuse and Prevention Act established elder justice coordinators nationwide and mandated improved data collection about elder abuse.
Groot said lawmakers here could consider tougher penalties, or contemplate whether a victim's age should be deemed an aggravating factor in fraud offences.
If you suspect elder abuse, regardless of whether there is identifiable criminality, call 0800 32 668 65 for free (0800 EA NOT OK) for advice and support for the older person.
You can also text 5032 or email email@example.com
If you're concerned about anybody's immediate safety, call 111
Report online scams: Netsafe
Scam advice: SuperSeniors