Millions of people looking for love use dating and social networking sites to meet people. The Association of Psychological Science reports online dating is the second most common way for couples to meet– keeping the good old fashioned “friends and family introductions” at the number one spot but surpassing church, gym and bars.
While many wish to start a successful relationship, the anonymity of the Internet makes it possible for con artists to meet potential victims. “Online, it’s easy to pretend to be someone you are not, said Randall Hoth, Wisconsin BBB president/CEO. "The scammers create fake profiles to build online relationships, and eventually convince people to send money in the name of love. Some even make wedding plans before disappearing with the money.”
A Nebraska woman recently reported to the BBB that she was a victim of a dating scam on Match.com. She developed a 16-month online relationship with a man named “Mark Ronald” who told her that he was in Nigeria working on a construction job. He sent the woman pictures of himself with his son and told her he was building an orphanage and would be receiving a payment of $16 million for the project in the near future. At one point he indicated that he intended to share one million dollars with her.
After months of communication and successfully winning the woman’s trust, the scammer told his victim that he was planning to head back to the states but he needed cash because he had just been “taken for $75,000,” and in order for him to receive payments owed to him on the orphanage, money was needed to clear the payment owed him. Of course “Mark” promised to pay her back.
Over the last year she wired money by Western Union as instructed to “Mark’s” friend, “James Winland”, in Ikeja Nigeria. The money transfers ranged from $150 - $1,800. The consumer wired a total of $7,600. She was told that he was sending money as repayment to her by Western Union. But when she went to a local grocery store to retrieve the wire, the transfer had been cancelled.
Recently, “Mark” referred her to his financial advisor, “Audrey Martinez” who told her that she had authorized money to be released to pay the woman back but that she needed to send an additional $450 to cover her services. When the woman refused to make this payment, she received an email stating, “If you even think about taking me down, I will destroy your life.” Feeling threatened, the woman called the BBB and also plans to notify legal authorities. Additionally, when she notified Match.com that she had been scammed, they removed “Mark’s” profile immediately.
“As the online dating industry continues to grow, consumers should be especially aware of the potential dangers that accompany dating sites,” said Hegarty. “Scam artists are constantly coming up with new ways to trick victims, and are even going as far as creating phony dating Web sites.”
When using the Internet to find love, BBB warns consumers to beware of the following red flags:
They are unable to physically meet you. Scam artists are unwilling to meet their victims in person, and will only communicate online or by phone. They often claim that they are unable to meet due to career or life circumstances that take them overseas.
They share similar interests. Typically, the scammers are charming and sensitive towards their victims, and pretend to share the same values in order to gain their trust. They are also quick to develop a relationship and talk of love. Many scam artists send flowers and gifts that were purchased using stolen credit cards.
There is a sudden emergency. Once the relationship has been developed, scam artists will claim that there has been an emergency and they need your assistance. The emergency often involves a family member’s health, and they ask you to wire money to them because they are unable to access their account.
Don’t give anyone you are interacting with on a dating site sensitive information that could be used to steal your identity or gain access to financial accounts. BBB also recommends doing research beforehand to make sure the dating service you are using is legitimate and has a favorable business review with the BBB.