The Types Of Dating Fraud

• You meet someone online, either in a chat room or through a dating site. You become close. They claim to be from Britain or America, working in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. They're paid in money orders, which they ask you to cash. You agree, deposit them in your bank and send the cash. A few weeks later you learn the money orders are forgeries, and you're responsible for the total. Meanwhile your lover has vanished.

• Through a dating site you meet someone, possibly from Eastern Europe or Asia. After a while they want to visit you, but need money to get a visa. You send it, then more for other requests. Emergencies might mysteriously arise, necessitating even more money. You prospective lover eventually disappears, leaving you not only broken-hearted but poorer.

There are several variations on these themes, but generally they all involve people far away and requests for money, or to cash money orders. However, there are also the scams of the dating agencies themselves.

Less scrupulous sites will put up fake profiles. Contact them and you will receive e-mails, but the relationship won't go anywhere. They exist simply to make the site look bigger. Just before your subscription expires you might well receive a mail from someone supposedly interested in you. However, it's merely a ploy to make you renew. There have even been reports of employees taking subscribers out as a ploy to make them renew.

How To Fight Dating Fraud

When you meet someone online it's easy to get carried away. These simple rules might stop a lot of hurt.

• Don't believe everything you're told. There are many genuine people looking for romance, but also plenty eager to take advantage. It's best to be sceptical; hopefully, you'll be pleasantly surprised later.

• Ask for not just one photograph, but several. It's easy to obtain a fake picture, but several are much harder. If they don't have a picture, be extremely wary. Likewise if he or she looks like a model. In real life most people simply don't look that good.
• Take things slowly, whatever your heart tells you. Look for inconsistencies in what they write. Don't be afraid to quiz them.
• Try to talk to them on Instant Messenger, preferably voice chat or via webcam. Sadly, men sometimes masquerade as women. Talking to them and seeing them will assure you.
• Ask for an address (not a P.O. box) and phone number. Call them. If they never answer and there's no voicemail, be extremely suspicious.

• Under no circumstances agree to any financial services or send money.

Finding a reputable dating site might seem easy. After all, there are plenty out there. But a number are scams. These are the best ways to find a good one:

• If they put up several "barriers" for clients, i.e. you have to write an essay about yourself and submit several photographs. This indicates they're taking the time to be sure the people online are real.

• Begin with a short-term subscription, making sure you know how to cancel it. If you receive a flurry of interest just before it expires, don't believe it's all genuine.

What To Do If You've Been Scammed

If you believe a dating site is acting illegally, don't renew your subscription. Instead, contact the Office of Fair Trading, supplying all the documentation that you have.

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