Online dating scams: Protect yourself

Online dating scams: Protect yourself

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The Internet can help you meet new people and make dating easier, but it's also full of scams, frauds, and identity thieves. Be brave, but be safe.

Beware online dating scams. (Flickr/ Gokhan Altintas)

VISTA, Calif., June 23, 2015 — Technology is racing at us like a freight train; new inventions appear daily.

Many innovations are designed to make our lives easier and help us accomplish more. The internet is the key to many of them. Take dating, for example. There are many benefits to dating online. We do not have to go to bars, grocery stores or anywhere, for that matter, to find a date or mate. Meeting people online saves time for those who work or have a hard time getting away from home.

We can decide who to meet from the comfort of our homes. We can go online when we get home from work, wake up, in our jammies or while watching television. We can look at posted pictures and decide if there is an immediate attraction. We can read through the profiles and decide if there is a match based on interests or intellect. We can reach out to someone across the street or on the other side of the world.

The one thing we cannot do online is verify that the person behind the picture and profile is who he or she appears to be.

There are online scams to steal personal information and identities, and some people prowl the internet with the intent to do others harm. We need to think about our personal safety when we go online, and when we decide to take the relationship offline, then act to protect ourselves.

Many online dating sites do their best to weed out scam artists with a verification system, but there is still trickery. For instance, foreign scammers might post photos of military personnel in uniform, then play on the patriotism or sympathy of unsuspecting online daters to volunteer information that will let the scammers raid their bank accounts.

The scam begins when the scammer and dating searcher connect via the online dating site through email. The scammer opens with friendly, engaging conversation then moves on to more enchanting things. The emails can take your breath away and make the conversation seem like the two of you are a great match. But often the spelling and grammar of the poser are just a little off, not quite the way we speak in the United States. These are the first indicators of a potential scam artist.

The next step is to ask the online dater for his or her instant messaging account or online video messaging service. Once the two move to instant messaging, the scammer begins to gain a wealth of personal information about the new victim, such as IP and personal email addresses. This information can be used to hack email and bank accounts.

A few things can protect you early on from being a victim and assist you in identifying a poser. Watch for unusual use of English and common phrases. If asked to instant message, tell the person you want to speak live on the phone first. Do not give your phone number; ask for theirs.

Should you decide to call, dial *67 first on your phone to block your telephone number. Many scammers will have phone numbers with area codes that are distant from yours and will be able to answer only at odd times. When they do answer, you may detect a foreign accent. Foreign scammers will have many excuses as to why they can only talk at specific times and why they cannot meet you anytime soon.

When talking with someone you do not know online or via the phone, it is important to remember not to reveal whether you live alone or with someone, the names or last names of your parents or children, or the area where you live. Think ahead of time about the responses you will give to questions like these. Think about questions you have to answer when you are locked out of any online accounts. Those are the type of answers the scammer may try to obtain from you. You can respond with, “I will tell you more about that when we meet.”

It is also important not to say where you work or mention places you frequent, such as grocery stores, libraries or places you spend your time. Not only will you protect yourself from being harmed personally, but from being harmed financially. Awareness and preparation are the keys.

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Rebecca L. Mahan
Rebecca L. Mahan is a retired law enforcement and Field Training officer who has spent more than 20 years studying domestic violence, working with victims of traumatic events and offers services to victims via her firm, The V.O.T.E., Victims Overcoming Traumatic Events, Program Mahan is a columnist, author and host of The V.O.T.E., Victims Overcoming Traumatic, Program" radio show. She has degrees in Church Ministry, Occupational Studies - Vocational Arts including her masters in Biblical studies. She is currently enrolled in a Doctorate of Philosophy of Theology program. Mahan has used her knowledge and training to write V.O.T.E.: Victims Overcoming Traumatic Events for use by patrol officers.