Online dating can be a wonderful way to meet new people, find romance, even forge a lifelong relationship, but it's not all hearts and flowers, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which warns that online dating sites are sometimes used by scam artists more interested in your money than your sparkling personality.
How Online Dating Scams Work
According to the FTC's OnGuard Online site, an online dating scammer typically creates a fake profile designed to attract the attention and gain the trust of potential victims, but soon starts asking their new love interest to send them money.
"Scammers look for targets of any age and in any location, who they can convince to send money in the name of love," warns the FTC, which advises "people active on dating sites to use their heads as well as their hearts."
How to Identify Online Dating Scams
Knowing the difference between true love and a scammer who is masquerading as the man or woman of your dreams can be tricky, but the FTC offers a few warning signs to help you determine whether the person wooing you is really just in love with your money:
- They want to leave the online dating site right away and to start using your personal email or instant messaging (IM) account.
- They claim to be in love with you almost immediately.
- They claim to be from the United States but currently located overseas, often because of business commitments or military service.
- They say they want to come visit you but are unable to travel because of some traumatic event, which has left them without sufficient funds.
- They ask you to wire them money to pay for travel expenses, visas or other documents, medication, hospital bills for a child or relative, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or as a loan until a big investment or business deal comes through. Some scammers ask their victims to do them a favor, such as making a purchase online or forwarding a package to another country.
Differences and Similarities in Online Dating Scams
Not every online dating scammer operates in the same way. While some profess undying love in record time, others patiently woo their victims for months before asking for money. "Some scammers even make wedding plans" with their victims, the FTC reports.
But one thing is absolutely universal among online dating scammers: eventually, they all ask the people they claim to love to wire them money, usually somewhere outside the United States. And once the requests for money begin, they don't stop. If you respond by sending money, there will be more and more requests, each accompanied by a plausible reason why only you can help.
The FTC warns that if you send money to someone you haven't met, chances are the money will be gone for good. Wiring money is the same as handing someone cash: once it's gone, there is no way to get it back.
"It can be heartbreaking to think of being so disappointed by someone you thought you knew," the FTC says, "but it doesn't have to bankrupt you, too."
How to Report Online Dating Scams
You can report online dating or social networking scams to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint, or by calling toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or TTY: 1-866-653-4261.