If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, online dating may be the approach you take to find a mate. But is online dating safe?
Criminals prey on desperate singles looking for love, especially on social media and chat rooms, according to the FBI. They usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad, although in actuality they live overseas. If you’re a woman over 40 who is divorced, widowed, or disabled, you are at a higher risk than other age groups and demographics, the bureau’s San Diego field office said in a memo warning about the dangers of online dating. The office said the scam usually works like this:
“You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen—your new-found ‘friend’ is going to ask you for money,” the press release says. “So you send money...but rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts. He may also send you checks to cash since he’s out of the country and can’t cash them himself, or he may ask you to forward him a package.”
Instead of finding a potential boyfriend, you found a criminal who targeted you based on information you uploaded to an online dating or social media website, the FBI says. Most likely, you were sent fake pictures by the criminal and the profile was phony as well, created so the crook would match your interests.
Not only did you lose the money you sent, but you also unwittingly participated in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas, according to the FBI. The same goes for the package, which was likely stolen merchandise.
Online daters also have to be aware of extortion scams. The scam starts when the person the online dater is communicating with on the website urged that the conversation move to a social media site, where the discussion turns intimate. The victims are then sent a link to a site where the conversations are posted along with their photos and phone numbers. The scammer also brands them as “cheaters” and offers to remove the information in exchange from $99. But “there is no indication that the other side of the bargain was upheld,” the FBI says.
If you believe you were the victim of these types of scams, you can make a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. Before the Ic3 analyzed the information, it looks for common threads among similar complaints, which helps identify the scammers. “This helps keep everyone safe,” the FBI says.
You may be a target of an online dating scam if the person you're communicating with does any of the following:
- Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
- Professes instant feelings of love;
- Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine;
- Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas;
- Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
To make sure you don’t become a victim, the FBI says you should only be a member of online dating sites with “nationally known reputations.” These would include sites such as Match.com, OkCupid and eHarmony.