Maybe because the search for love can be so difficult and thorny, it's a natural realm for charlatans. Add the Internet to people's vulnerability as they wade through the minefield of dating, and the combination can lead to trouble.
A federal consumer watchdog warned online daters last week to protect themselves against scam artists looking to prey on them. The typical scam involves an out-of-town love interest asking that new special someone to wire money to pay for a visit or for a sick relative's medical treatment.
Whistleblower recently heard from a Rockford man who got scammed after he took the bait from a person he met on the dating site plentyoffish.com.
He became fast online friends with the woman, who said she lived in North Bay, Ontario, some 800 miles away. She told him she "couldn't wait to meet me." She promised to spend three weeks with him in October, but needed $500 because she couldn't afford the airfare. His family and friends had warned him about sending money to someone he'd never met.
"I ignored everybody because I simply had never met anyone on the Internet before and trusted this woman," he told us in an e-mail.
He took money out of his 401(k) and sent the check. After cashing that check, she said she needed $600 to cover her rent while she was visiting him in Minnesota. He again sent a check. Just before she was supposed to visit, she said she needed more money to put her two labs in a kennel.
"Like an idiot I wire transferred her this additional $500 because she knew she had me hooked and was in too deep to stop," he wrote. After receiving the payment, she e-mailed our Rockford Romeo to tell him never to contact her again. He threatened a lawyer and prosecution, but she replied: "good luck buddy, do what you gotta do."
So far, he's had little luck pursuing the matter through international legal channels.
His case has many hallmarks of the scams the Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to avoid. Here are some signs, according to the FTC, that your new online soulmate may not be on the up and up:
• They claim instant feelings of love.
• They ask for money to pay for travel, visas, medication, a relative's hospital bill or expenses for a pending business deal.
• They make multiple requests for money.
• They claim to be from the United States, but are currently overseas.
• Their plan to visit is held up by a sudden tragic event.
For more information, visit the federal government's online safety website at onguardonline.gov or call 1-877-382-4357. You can also file a complaint at that number.