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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Inside the Online Dating Industry > Online Dating Fraud

Inside The Online Dating Industry
by Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine

A Closer Look at Online Dating Scams and Fraud


Online dating scams and fraud are almost as old as Internet dating itself. It's a battle that online dating services have to wage every day and one that online daters are growing weary of.

There are various scams that specifically target online daters and online dating services. One scam is where a person from another country emails you and, over time, forms an "online relationship" with you. They may even hire a girl to talk to you on the phone. As you become more attached, the scammer then asks for money to come see you. There's various excuses for the money, including "have to get a visa" or "my family is poor," or "my mom just went into the hospital," etc.

According to the National Consumers League, the average loss of an online dater being scammed is more than $3,000. They have a name for this scam too - the "Sweetheart Swindle".

“The Sweetheart Swindle is often a long, drawn out process in which the con artist nurtures a relationship, and eventually convinces the victim to send money repeatedly over an extended period of time,” says Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League. “Scammers lurk in chat rooms and on online dating sites, attempting to earn someone’s affections and trust so that they can persuade him or her to send money,”

Many online dating services have a hard time dealing with scammers, outside of issuing warnings to their users to be alert for anyone you've never met asking for money. Until last year, LavaLife actually had a good handle on scammers and spammers because it charged a per credit fee for people to communicate. They changed that to a monthly fee, however, and now scammers and spammers are just as active on LavaLife as they are on other online dating services.

One thing the best scammers have going for them is patience. They are not afraid to take time cultivating a relationship via email. A man may think he's communicating with a beautiful young russian woman, when he's really likely communicating with another guy that is in a small office with other guys also doing the same scam. Once a scammer can get you to declare your love, they know they have you. Some operations are quite sophisticated with trained actresses that will talk to you on the phone to convince you they are real.

Scammers virtually always initiate first contact with you. And many of them will ask you to email them outside of the dating service. Here's an actual email (I've removed the email address) of a scammer:

"Nice to meet you! Please allow me to introduce myself to you. I come from Russia and I am 26 years old. I grew up in a happy and harmonious family. Therefore my character is extravert, outgoing, kind, responsible and confident. And I have many hobbies, such as traveling, singing, dance, reading, sports and so on. In my eyes, the world is full of beautiful things and I love the world as I love my life. If you are interested, please leave message or contact me by email, [email address removed]. I'm looking forward to hearing from you."

Here's another one:

"Hi, I'd like to get to know you closer if you don't mind. I am looking for a friend, love and friendship.If you are interested, please respond [email address removed]. Hopefully hear from you soon."

Scam emails take various forms, so not all will be like the above. However, if in a first communication, you are asked to email the person at a particular email address (from someone in another country), immediately delete (or report) the email.

“Consumers need to use caution and common sense when dealing with someone they haven’t met in person. Remember to never send the person money in any form, no matter how compelling or heart-wrenching their story may be,” says Greenberg. “Don’t let your ‘love’ for your online suitor to allow you to be robbed blind. While they may not love you, they would love to take your money, so be sure to only consider giving money to someone you’ve met in person, have known for a long time, and can truly trust. Or be prepared to kiss your money – and your special friend – goodbye.”

Other online dating scams are aimed at getting your email address, by almost immediately asking you to email them off of the service.. By getting your email address, the scammers are able to add it to a list with others and sell the lists to scam and spam companies. Your email box will soon flourish with love letters from people you've never heard of.

In general, online dating services are having problems dealing with scammers. The reason is because they allow users who pay a monthly fee to communicate with anyone. So for $39.99 a month, a scammer has access to tens of thousands of potential victims. As mentioned earlier, prior to last year, LavaLife had mostly avoided this problem by running a "credit" system. Under that system you would purchase packages of credits (i.e. $24.99 for 100 credits) and then you would have to pay credits for every person you emailed. Under that system, it wasn't profitable for scammers to use LavaLife. When LavaLife switched to unlimited communication with anyone for a monthly fee, the scammers quickly became members.

Right now, most services deal with scammers and spammers through a report abuse feature, putting the pressure on online daters to police. Others are more proactive, looking for patterns of scammer behavior (i.e. lots of emails in short period of time) and deleting them quick. Some services go as far as trying to block certain countries from accessing their service.

If you're an online dater, always be on your toes and try to keep your dates local. If you're an online dating service, do more to educate online daters on what they can do and on what you're doing to avoid the "sweetheart swindle".


Cheers and Jeers
Welcome to Cheers and Jeers where every month we highlight something a person, company, or service is doing in the dating world and give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This week...

Jeers: for Removing YouTube Video
Last year a employee posted a YouTube video of employees having fun. The video was set to the music of Bohemian Like You. We originally linked to the video here. The video was lighthearted
, fun, and gave personality to employees. However, after months of it being up, took the fun out of the video by requesting that Google remove it from their YouTube service, citing "copyright infringement".

Note: If you know something an online dating service is doing right, please let me know. We are going to be highlighting more of the positives of specific services, providing them with free publicity as a result of their desire to be more user friendly.

Joe Tracy is publisher of Online Dating Magazine and is often quoted by the media in relation to online dating topics. His Inside the Online Dating Industry column is published once a month.

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