Over 41.2 million people in the U.S. tried an online dating site in 2014, according to the Better Business Bureau. Although many have positive experiences, and some eventually find mates, others can get hurt. The Federal Trade Commission reported $105 million in losses from online dating scams in 2013. And as a widow, you need to be especially careful to protect yourself from such frauds. Why? Because you're a prime target for shysters, who figure you're rich and vulnerable.
Con men often claim to be Americans who live or work overseas. In fact, they are usually foreign nationals who concoct false identities and "life stories" designed to dupe lonely women. They may steal the online photographs (and even a smattering of background facts) of law-abiding citizens who have no idea what's happened to their information.
How can you tell whether the great guy you've met online is a sleaze? It isn't easy, because he's probably had plenty of practice honing his skills. The Better Business Bureau, FBI, FTC and other agencies warn of telltale signs of a hoax, such as:
He "falls in love" with you after just a few emails. You're like no one he's met before. He talks about "destiny" or "fate" bringing you together.
He quickly suggests communicating via your email address, phone or texting – rather than through the dating site.
He asks for lots of personal information right away.
Ultimately, he asks for money – for medical bills, a bank snafu or any number of clever "emergencies" – and tells you to wire it abroad. Money requests may arise quickly; in other cases, the scammer may take the time to build your trust.
Vetting services can offer some protections. For example, Spokeo (www.spokeo.com), a California-based search engine, combs through the white pages, public records and social media information to help you locate and learn about someone who contacts you online. Matchmakers can be useful for vetting as well. One widow, who met a man (a legitimate resident of her city) and spent time with him, went a step further and hired a private investigator to check him out "just in case." The point is: You can't be too careful out there.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When, and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
Image via Dollar Photo Club / anyaberkut