Columbia, SC, Feb. 6, 2012 – More people are turning to the Internet to find Mr. or Ms. Right through online dating services, pop-up ads or email. The BBB has a warning for those who use the Internet to find love: While online dating has resulted in some successful relationships, criminals also troll the sites for victims who will send them money.
BBB gets thousands of complaints every year from people who have lost money to someone they met on dating sites. Some criminals say they’re in the military and stationed overseas. Others may claim to have a sudden emergency, such as medical bills for a sick relative, or they claim they’re in need of cash because they’re stranded or behind on their bills. Often the ‘emergency’ occurs after weeks or months of online chit-chat, often filled with flattery that makes the victim feel as if he or she has found true love.
A woman in Washington State got a 46-month prison term for swindling an elderly doctor out of $2.2 million by faking an online romantic relationship over several years ending in 2010. A study in the United Kingdom found that more than 200,000 people in Britain had been conned by scammers posing as potential romantic partners online, with victims losing up to £240,000, the equivalent of about $379,600.
A lawsuit filed in Dallas in December 2010 claimed that more than half the profiles on a leading dating site were “inactive, fake or fraudulent.” In some cases, the profiles link to scammers in other countries, often in Africa or Eastern Europe. For that reason, it can be difficult for law enforcement or other agencies to make arrests or recover victims’ money.
The BBB urges anyone who uses an online dating service or answers an unsolicited romantic email to be extremely cautious before committing to meet the person or send them money, tickets or anything else of value.
Some tips and red flags to watch for include: