Once upon a time, people relied on their in-person networks to find love and romance. They had to wait on their cousin to introduce them to a coworker. Or they went to clubs and bars, where they met not-so nice guys and got frustrated.
Then, along came online dating sites, which set people up via profile matches and interest lists. Online dating evolved from something strange and unusual to the normal way of business. And online dating has become the norm these days.
After the dating sites, forums then grew into popular meeting spots. People who shared a love of animals got to know each other by exchanging anecdotes about their childhood pets or offering advice on housebreaking a puppy. They began to build comfort in the online arena, as well as true and trustworthy relationships. Friendships evolved into romances.
People hung out online for a while. Then they may have found it wouldn’t work and moved on to the next forum. Online dating was no longer an alien concept and many people found true love, married and raised families. But some weren’t so lucky.
For every successful relationship, there are hundreds of others that weren’t so successful. Then, there are those that not only lost their hearts online, but lost hundreds, thousands or, in some cases, millions of dollars.
These relationships started off normally — like all of their previous online escapades. And all went well, until they trusted someone with the wrong information.
By becoming too comfortable online, Mr. Right can turn into Mr. What- Was-I-Thinking. That’s what happened to an estimated 5,600 people a couple of years ago.
In 2011, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Department received 5,600 complaints about “romance scammers.”
Of those that were brave enough to report, 70 percent were women, with more than half being 40 years old or older.
Avoiding the wrong profiles
When these scammers approached their victims, they didn’t just walk in, say “I love you” and take their money. That’s the scary part.
They took their time.
These romancers scam anyone willing to give them time to nurture a relationship. They spend weeks, even months, growing an emotional bond with their victims. They listen to them and discover what makes them tick. They offer an empathetic shoulder to cry on when they need it. They make them feel cared for.
Once the victim has indicated the deep connection by sharing intimate thoughts, feelings — and maybe even pictures — the romancers step up their game and ask for what they want. Money. Lots of it.
And because the victim feels such an emotional bond with the perpetrator, they give it to them.
Protect yourself from the scammers
Enter conversations with caution. Don’t just assume that because someone seems nice that you should empty your dirty laundry. They could be looking for the details that make you hurt and upset so they can use them against you.
Talk in generalities and never reveal your personal identity or sensitive information, as that’s what they’ll use to get at you later.
Don’t call anyone, as you could end up with huge phone charges. If you plan on taking it offline, let them call you. Local-based scams often are rigged so that the number comes up as foreign, but still results in fees for the caller.
When you talk to people in online forums and communities, always keep your guard up. Pay attention to the cues in your conversations. Scammers are good, but they’re not perfect. If you’re listening to your heart and not the person on the other end of the cable, you’ll hear it tell you that something isn’t right.
If that’s the case, end the communication right away and don’t look back.
Online dating requires more than an internet connection; it requires a guarded heart and a careful ear.