Love can spark over the Internet. However, with Valentine's Day around the corner, Better Business Bureau is issuing some advice to avoid both heartache and financial hurt.
According to a 2010 study conducted by Match.com, 20 percent of couples meet via online dating: One in five singles have dated someone from an online dating website; and one in five committed relationships started online. However, not all Internet romances are genuine. Forrester Research estimates that 10 percent of users on free online dating sites could be fraudsters.
BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns of three popular schemes found on online dating sites, chat rooms and social networking sites:
- Fraudsters pose as attractive singles and build relationships online to bilk money from unsuspecting individuals. Using e-mails or instant messaging to gain trust, schemers invent sob stories and emergencies to convince their targets to wire money—usually overseas.
- Prowlers scan Internet sites for intimate details in order to commit identity or financial theft. In many cases, they contact and bait the victims into revealing more private details, beyond what's listed in their profiles.
- Unscrupulous companies and matchmakers make inflated promises of love to lure in singles and collect hundreds or thousands of dollars, usually using misleading contracts. Victims don't receive any services or dates.
Be Choosy: Don't settle when searching for the right online dating site. Resist high pressure sales tactics; take time to review agreements. Check out companies with BBB. Review BBB's article: Consumers Looking For Love Need To Be On The Lookout.
TMI: Be careful not to release too much information. Before posting personal details and photos online, decide whether you're comfortable giving access to hundreds or even millions of strangers. Review privacy settings and policies. For security tips, read BBB's article: Avoid Web Schemes.
Money Honey: Don't pay to make them stay. It's normal to shell out some cash during a date, but be wary of love-interests who ask for money—especially via money transfer. For information on online dating scams, visit OnGuardOnline.gov.
Become Acquainted: Use the head first, then the heart. Hold off on giving contact information. When ready to meet in-person, meet in public; make it a double-date or bring friends. Visit www.bbb.org for more tips.