Avoid Online Dating Scams

If you are seeking love online the OFT warns consumers: don't fall victim to an online dating scam.

An online dating scam is when a scammer, male or female, creates a false profile and makes contact via an online dating agency or a chat room. The scammer professes that they are seeking romance or a soul mate: however, he or she only wants your money.

The internet has opened up a new and exciting way to meet your potential life partner and, although the vast majority of those who sign up to an online dating agency are genuine, some scam artists are out to trap the unwary.

How do you know it's a scam?

The scammer will ask for your money. This will not happen immediately. At first they will convince you that you are in a loving relationship and the next logical step is for them to come to meet you. The only problem is they don't have enough money to travel to see you. They will then ask you to send the money via a money transfer agent, such as Western Union - so that they are untraceable. Other reasons they give for why they need your financial help include:

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

I have been robbed and beaten, I require urgent surgery or treatment for a serious illness and you are the only person who can help me

Other warning signs of a scam include:

• your new online date is young and beautiful - this could be because the scammer has used a stolen picture

• your new online date only gives you a post office address and a telephone number which he or she never answers and which does not have voicemail

• your new online date talks a lot about themselves and does not answer your questions - probably because they are sending standard e-mails to hundreds of people

The OFT's warning on the dangers of online dating scams comes as part of its month-long scams awareness campaign. UK consumers lose an estimated ?1 billion per year to a variety of scams which exploit low-cost, mass-marketing techniques. Many of these scams originate overseas, making detection and prosecution difficult.

Tips to avoid being scammed

To protect yourself from falling victim to an online dating scam the OFT offers the following tips:

• never, ever send money or reveal your bank details to someone you don't know, however plausible they sound
• stop, think and be sceptical. Is this person who they really say
• they are?
• ask for advice.

• report it to the dating site that arranged the introduction.

Tips for dating online safely

Follow the dating agency's tips for safe online dating: Typically, these are:

• do not give out any personal details. Do not give out your personal or work telephone number, e-mail address, home address or place of work or date of birth

• always try and meet someone who lives locally. Make use of the online search engines on dating sites which matches you with someone who lives closest to your postcode address
• be sceptical if a person who is not your usual dating type offline is showing you particular attention online. (An example is if you are a person over 50 and you are being frequently contacted by a person under 30)
• meet in a public place

• always make sure at least one friend or family member know who you are supposed to be meeting, where and when and what time you are expected home.

Christine Wade, Director of Consumer Regulation Enforcement at the OFT said: 'This latest example of an online scam shows how scammers use legitimate services to prey upon people's vulnerabilities and hopes for companionship to defraud them of their money.'

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