The Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, has issued a warning about romance scams in which scammers target individuals who use online dating services. Online the scammer appears like a normal person looking for love. In reality, he/she could be a criminal sitting in a cyber café with a well-rehearsed script that scammers use with great success. Scammers search chat rooms, dating sites, and social networking sites looking for victims. The principal group of victims is over 40 years old and divorced, widowed, elderly, or disabled, but all demographics are at risk.
Scammers use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, the entire time declaring their “undying love.” These criminals also use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers also ask victims to send money to help overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.
In another scheme, scammers ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer, claiming they are out of the country and unable to cash the instruments or receive the funds directly. The scammers ask victims to redirect the funds to them or to an associate to whom they purportedly owe money. In a similar scheme, scammers ask victims to reship packages instead of redirecting funds. In these examples, victims risk losing money and may incur other expenses, such as bank fees and penalties, and in some instances face prosecution.
Victims who have agreed to meet in person with an online love interest have been reported missing, or injured, or in one instance, deceased. IC3 complainants most often report the countries of Nigeria, Ghana, England, and Canada as the location of the scammers. If you are planning to meet someone in person that you have met online, the IC3 recommends using caution, especially if you plan to travel to a foreign country, and, at the very least:
- Do not travel alone.
- Read all travel advisories associated with the countries you will visit. Travel advisories are available at http://travel.state.gov/.
- Contact the United States Embassy in the country you plan to visit.
Even though it seems to be contrary to the thought of starting a new romance, do not be afraid to check a new acquaintance’s story online. Remember, like most fraudulent schemes, scammers use whatever personal information you provide to quickly paint themselves as your perfect match. If your new friend’s story is repeated through numerous complaints and articles on the Internet, it is time to apply common sense over your feelings.
The following video, from the CTnow TV’s Morning Show (out of Connecticut) is a news piece on the subject of online dating scams, that aired on Valentine’s Day 2011. The news segment includes an insightful interview with Howard Schwartz who is the Executive Director of Communications for the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. He provides some insightful tips on avoiding online dating scams, reminding you that the reason there are so many victims is because the perpetrators work hard via computer and phone to get you to love them, then to trust them, allowing them to be more successful with scams. Below the video are some tips from the Connecticut BBB.
If you’re participating in online dating and a person you’re communicating with fits some or all of the following then you are likely being targeted by a scammer:
- Acts charming, understanding, flattering, sensitive and caring
- Tries to move the online relationship forward quickly by talking about love.
- Communicates only via email, cell phone, and instant messaging.
- Always has an excuse for not being able to meet you face-to-face.
- Often overseas for work or other reasons
- Has a sudden emergency, some which involve a made-up “young child”.
- Has an excuse for being unable to get their money, thus “needing your help”.
- Asks for more money (for the same or different reason) once you give an initial payment.
- If you have no money, they find a “client” who can send you money orders, with instructions to wire the money to them. (The checks are counterfeit, but you will likely find that out too late.)
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning to singles who are looking for love online. The BBB is encouraging online daters to read the contract terms of online dating services before paying for that service. Nationwide, the BBB has seen a strong increase in the number of individuals looking up online dating services. Complaints against online dating services, most dealing with billing issues, are also on the rise.
“With matchmaking contracts, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into and what the service offers,” said Steve J. Bernas, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “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.”
Jean Rhodes of Evanston said of her experience: “She made me feel like a loser. I told her that I was not interested in signing up and she asked me ‘Would your mother want to see you single?’ She pushed me at a weak moment and I signed up. She told me that she had three people that were appropriate right now. I spent $2995.00 and ended up getting only one date with a guy that I had nothing in common with.”
Barbara McCarthy of Hoffman Estates, who also complained said, “They promised me 33 matches and I am not sure if I ever hit that number. They said that I would meet all high caliber men that would meet me in nice restaurants. Actually, I think that they just tried to set me up with anyone alive and moving. One guy showed up for dinner with no teeth and gummed his food.”
Those looking to find love via an online dating service most often complained about:
– Dissatisfaction with the number of arranged dates. Matchmaking services often say they have a database of thousands of singles in the area and promise a minimum number of dates; however, complaints show they often failed to deliver. One complainant reported to only have received three referrals over a 12 month period, significantly less than what was promised.
– Available singles not up to par. Often consumers said they were matched with singles that did not meet their specified criteria-common complaints include that singles they were set up with were smokers when they specified nonsmokers or lived too far away from prospective matches.
– Poor or rude customer service and high pressure sales tactics. Some complainants reported being pressured by sales associates into signing up for matchmaking services. Complainants reported being yelled at, others were told to not be so picky, and many said they were completely ignored.
The dating services industry is divided into two categories: personalized matchmaking companies and online dating Web sites. The two services take a different approach to helping people find compatibility and as a result, the types of complaints to the BBB differ.
Another complainant, Mary Ann Tracy of Carol Stream said, “I felt pressured to sign up because they said I had to decide within a certain amount of hours. They never even gave me a copy of the contract I signed. I paid several thousand dollars and they only came up with two referrals. I wasn’t interested in either of them. I tried to get a refund but they gave me the runaround and stopped taking my calls.”
To avoid a bad experience the BBB offers the following advice:
– Do your homework. Check out the company with the BBB to make sure it has a history of satisfying customers and resolving complaints.
– Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell people that a low price is only good for that day and ask them to sign a contract immediately. Take the contract home, read it carefully and make sure it clearly states what you are signing and paying for.
-Know the contract terms. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Some dating services automatically renew memberships and there are steps that must be taken, such as calling the company, to prevent being billed again.
Online Dating Magazine, the leading independent publication for online daters and singles looking for love online, has named February 2011 as “Online Dating Safety Awareness Month.” The purpose of the month-long event is to bring a higher awareness of safety to online daters.
In general, online dating is a safe and effective way to meet people and fall in love. But one can never be too safe in their quest to find a lifelong partner.
Online Dating Magazine has launched OnlineDatingSafetyAwareness.com in order to help educate online daters about online dating safety. The site focuses exclusively on online dating safety with the latest articles, news, and videos.
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