Online dating scams

Online dating website have opened up a world of opportunity for lonely singles. But it has also opened the door to scam artists, and people are losing thousands of dollars to these sweetheart scams.

Advances in technology have brought the world closer together. You can, with incredible ease, visit via videophone with friends and family, exchange emails with long-lost classmates, exchange text messages with like-minded people on an online forum, and even “date” people you’ve never physically met. And that’s where the problem comes in.

It works like this

The sweetheart scam works by preying on the desire people have to connect to one another. You meet a person online, maybe through dating sites, and it’s perfect. Your relationship quickly escalates until your “friend” is declaring his or her undying love -- often after only a few short weeks. There’s just one catch: he or she is not nearby. They may be in a different city, across the country or even in a different country.

But there’s good news! He or she is coming home soon, or they just have to meet you and they say they’re going to travel to your location. That’s when tragedy strikes in a form that requires a financial rescue. Maybe they claim to have had an accident and can’t pay the doctor bills, or they’ve been robbed and can’t buy the airplane ticket. Either way, they need emergency funds – from you – because they have no one else.

The warning signs

This scam has a lot of warning signs: an overseas love interest, a relationship that develops suspiciously fast, an obstacle to meeting in person, poor grammar, details that don’t add up.

Protect yourself by following these safety guidelines:

  • Stick to reputable dating sites.
  • Don’t enter into a relationship with anyone who can’t meet you for coffee within a week of first contact.
  • Don’t agree to take your conversation off the site and into email. Keep it on the dating site’s message board until you have undeniable proof this is a legitimate contact.
  • Don’t exchange cell phone numbers with a charming stranger.
  • Don’t share too much information in your profile. Scammers particularly like to target widows and widowers. It’s safer to set your status as “single.”
  • Exercise a healthy dose of skepticism – how likely is it that someone is working overseas, gets robbed and can’t get their employer to cover them. If it sounds odd, it probably is.

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