Finding Love on the Internet: Tips for Safe Online Dating

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Last week, I had a call from a woman who had begun to believe she was being scammed. While every call from a victim or potential victim makes me sad, or at least concerned, this particular call really affected me. The woman told me she had been communicating with a man through a popular dating site for a couple months and had become concerned because things did not seem quite right.

The man was from a foreign country, came on incredibly strong (by immediately professing his love for her) and then had suddenly gone bankrupt and now needed money. Of course, as a Victim Advisor and having heard many online scams before, I knew this was the case in her situation.  You can call me mushy, but I felt terrible to have to tell her that her online Romeo was probably a scam artist and that everything he had told her was false. It just broke my heart as well as hers, I am sure.

She was smart though and called the Identity Theft Resource Center before she made any errors that may have not only left her heart aching, but her bank accounts empty as well.

The days of skirting the fact that you met your significant other on the Internet are gone. According to Match.com, 17% of couples married in the last three years, or one in six, met each other on an online dating site. The numbers are only expected to grow as the Internet plays a larger role in our day-to-day lives. People using such services need to know how to keep themselves from becoming victims of scams or identity theft. Therefore, while I cannot give you advice on how to protect your heart, I can suggest some basic guidelines to protect your identity and bank account while courting online.
  • Do not give out personal information: If someone asks for your address to send you a gift, tell them you can accept it if (and when) you meet in person. Information such as your address, phone number, Social Security number or place of employment can be used to steal your identity.
  • Be wary of people who seem to move too quickly: If someone you just started communicating with last week asks for your hand in marriage, it could be a red flag that person has ill intentions. You should spend quite a bit of time getting to know someone before you travel to see them or tell them any personal information.
  • Don’t send money to anyone you meet online: You have been talking to John in Baltimore for months now and you agree it is time to meet in person. He says he will pay half of the ticket and you just need to mail him a check for the other half. Sounds fair, except now he has your checking account number, your routing number and whatever other personal information you have divulged to him in your courting period and he can now drain your bank account.
  • If they seem too good to be true, they probably are: This is true with any scam and is just a good rule to live by. If a person  contacts you and has the exact same interests, is physically perfect in your eyes, agrees with everything you say  and instantly falls madly in love with you, you may be the luckiest person on earth… or you may be about to become very unlucky as you become a victim.
  • Be careful when logging into dating sites in public places: Dating networks are much like other social networks. The same havoc that can be wreaked on your life should someone be able to log into your Facebook account, can also take place if someone is able to access your online dating account. So take precautions to log out, and close browsers when logging into your accounts when on a computer that is used by more than one person.

The bottom line is to protect yourself by keeping information private and recognizing when something sounds or feels wrong. Scam artists and identity thieves will use any method possible to get what they want. Often these methods involve luring in a victim with the promise of a specific item the victim is looking for, whether it is a job, a car or, in this case love. So while you may or may not find your soulmate on the World Wide Web, by following these guidelines, you can at least protect yourself while searching.

 

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.