Thursday, February 26, 2009

Online dating scams on the rise

By Tracy Anderson

Looking for your true love on the Internet in time for Valentine's Day? Interested in meeting the girl of your dreams? Searching far and wide on your computer for that sexy lady you've always wanted?

Before you listen to your heart and start a relationship online, keep an open mind and be on the lookout for con artists who are after your money. The Internet is full of swindlers and you may be their next victim!

Sweetheart scams are on the rise and no dating site is immune to them, according to Julie Ferguson, executive director of the Merchant Risk Council, which tracks scams for online retailers.

Dale Miskell, supervisory special agent in charge of an FBI cybercrime squad in Birmingham, Alabama, said scam artists usually post fake profiles to online dating sites or hang out in chat rooms, preying on lonely souls looking for love.

They use colorful pseudonyms like "single and available", "seeking my soul mate", or "searching for someone." After finding the perfect victim, they befriend that person, offering love and companionship and often lure the unsuspecting victim with flowers or candy purchased with a stolen credit card.

Once you're hooked, they ask you to do favors for them at your expense of course! This usually involves sending money to Nigeria or another country using an irreversible method like a wire transfer.

The UK Office of Fair Trading said scam artists may give the following reasons why they need your help --- and your money:

"I want to meet you but I don't have enough money to travel to see you."

"I have been robbed and beaten. I require urgent surgery or treatment for a serious illness or me or my family member has been a victim of a serious or fatal accident and you are the only person who can help."

"I am stranded abroad and I don't have money for travel or visa costs."

The U.S. Secret Service and other agencies have repeatedly issued warnings about these so-called Nigerian scams (also known as "419" or "advance-fee" frauds), But as American showman P.T. Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute" and many more are suckers for love.

If you've found a new love interest on the Web, be wary if that person asks for money for whatever reason. Don't get sweet-talked into parting with your hard-earned cash and be suspicious if your new found love looks like a model or a movie star. Chances are the scammer has grabbed that picture elsewhere and pasted it on her profile.

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