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SALT LAKE CITY -- Valentine's Day can often remind single people of their loneliness, and millions of Americans are turning to online dating to find that special someone to fill their void. But, people must be aware of the dangers of online dating scams before they fall head over heels for a virtual pick-pocket.
These scam artists usually use social media sites and chat rooms in search of their romantic victims. Typically, the criminal will claim to be an American traveling or working abroad, but in reality they often live overseas. Their most common target are women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled, but every age group and demographic is at risk.
By remaining aware of the risks, crime and broken hearts are minimized.
The scam begins when the criminal contacts the victim online and appears interested in pursuing a relationship. He or she may have a profile and pictures that are accessible. Then for weeks, or even months, the criminal will chat back and forth with the victim, forming a connection. Flowers or gifts may even be sent to the victim. But eventually, the scam artist will do what they do best, and slowly but surely will empty the pockets of their "significant other."
This begins with the scam artist asking for money from the victim, usually explaining that there have been financial hardships. But after the victim sends money, the requests will just continue. The criminal may also ask checks to be cashed because they are out of the country, and can't cash them, or he/she may ask for a package to be forwarded to them.
While the victim feels that they are helping out their "significant other," in reality they are slowly being drained of funds and often times are being used to unknowingly take part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money oversees by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).
The criminal has successfully managed this facade by simply created a fake profile by lifting fake photos from other websites, and by carefully crafting matching information found on the victim's profile.
If individuals feel that they have been a victim of an online dating scam, it is highly encouraged to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. This helps the FBI and local authorities to trace common threads that can link complaints to the culprit.
The website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation offers a few tips on how to detect a an online dating scam artist:
- If they press you to leave the dating website you met through and want to communicate using personal email or instant messaging
- Professes instant feelings of love
- Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamor magazine
- Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas
- Makes plans to visit you, but then is unable to do so because of a tragic eventually
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization)
Another way to steer clear of these criminals all together is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations. And by remaining aware of the risks, crime and broken hearts are minimized.