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On line Dating Scams Spreading like Wildfire

How to protect yourself against on line Dating Scammers

The total number of single people in the U.S. has been estimated at 54 Million. The total number of people in the U.S. who have tried online dating is about 40 Million. The two largest on line dating services are eHarmony with 20 Million members and Match.com with 15 Million members. According to the Association of Psychological Science, online dating is now the second most common way people find one another. Introductions from friends and family are still the most popular methods for finding love, but online dating sites now surpass churches, fitness clubs and bars as meeting places for those seeking friendship or romance.

So it’s not surprising that recent reports of on line dating scams are causing consternation among singles looking for the right partner with whom to share their lives. On August 15, 2012, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning that complaints about on line dating services have increased by 108% in the past year. While the report covers the Chicago and Northern Illinois area, it does raise some important points that would-be-on line-daters should heed.

Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the BBB in the Chicago area cautions: "With matchmaking contracts, it's important to know exactly what you're getting into and what the service offers. Be sure to read all agreements, guarantees, and instructions before signing and be wary of vaguely worded provisions, exclusions or limitations which could pose a problem later."

The BBB offers the following advice to avoid dating scams:

  • Know and recognize the red flags. Be wary if someone claims any of the following: to be in love right away, to be from the U.S. but traveling or working overseas, or to be a member of the military. Another red flag is if someone's profile lacks a photograph and/or information in their "About Me" section.
  • Create a new e-mail account to be used just for online dating. The advantage of having a separate account is that you can filter information in your dating inbox and it doesn't become mixed with work or personal e-mails.
  • Don't give out personal information online. It is not necessary to reveal any of the following on your online dating profile: full name, address, phone numbers, link to your Facebook page, work information or financial details. This information can be revealed later if you meet in person and develop trust. Avoid anyone who pushes you to disclose personal information.
  • Talk on the phone before meeting in a public place. It can be easier to spot a fraud over the phone rather than online. If you decide to meet someone after the initial phone conversation, always meet in a public.

The anonymity of the Internet makes dating sites easy places for con artists to find victims, especially with so many people are willing to share personal information with strangers. But beware that scammers can set up fake profiles with legitimate online dating services. As a romantic relationship progresses, often for many months or even years, the communications usually leave the dating site and switch to personal emails. Victims receive pictures, which they are led to believe are of their new love interests, and the thieves tell elaborate stories about “their” families and personal lives. Most often none of their stories are true. The real people behind many of the fake profiles are Nigerian scam artists, and eventually the fake gentlemen and ladies come up with “emergencies” and ask for money.

A Lincoln, Nebraska woman recently reported to the BBB that she was a victim of a dating scam via Match.com. She had a 16-month online relationship with a man who told her that he was an American working in Nigeria on a construction job. He sent pictures of (supposedly) himself with (supposedly) his son and told her he was building an orphanage. He claimed he would be receiving a payment of $16 million for the project in the near future and he even said he planned to share $1 million of that with her.

How to Recognize a Scam Artist

The relationship may not be what you think, especially if your sweetheart:

  • wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging
  • claims love in a heartbeat
  • claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas
  • plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour

Scammers also like to say they’re out of the country for business or military service.

What You Can Do About It

You may lose your heart, but you don’t have to lose your shirt, too. Don’t wire money to cover:

  • travel
  • medical emergencies
  • hotel bills
  • hospital bills for a child or other relative
  • visas or other official documents
  • or losses from a temporary financial setback

Don’t send money to tide someone over after a mugging or robbery, and don’t do anyone a favor by making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country. One request leads to another, and delays and disappointments will follow. In the end, the money will be gone along with the person you thought you knew.

Relationship scams should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, and your state Attorney General. To access a list of possible scams, click on this link to the Fraud Aid victim advocacy website.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 17, 2012