by Jill Papworth
OFT warns against scammers who build fictitious profiles on dating websites and befriend other users before asking for cash. Con artists on dating websites may ask for money to cover urgent medical treatment for a family member
Romantics should be on their guard against internet dating scams that can not only rip you off financially but also break your heart. The latest scam alert from the Office of Fair Trading warns that the increased potential to meet people online is being used by criminals to con people out of their money.
"Romance fraudsters" target singles columns and dating websites to search for victims. They create fictitious online profiles and send out unsolicited emails or letters, often with fake photographs, using the trust they build up to persuade their victims to part with large sums of money in frauds that can go on for years.
These typically involve the scamster telling their victim they want to meet them but are stranded without the money to travel or cover visa costs. They may also say that they or a family member require urgent treatment for an illness. The OFT says in one recent case a British national was kidnapped after travelling to west Africa expecting to be met by someone with whom they had established an online friendship. The individual had no idea that the online 'friend' was the fictional creation of a criminal group. The victim was assaulted, imprisoned for four days, and was released only when a ransom was paid.
"All fraud is destructive but dating scammers are particularly ruthless as they abuse the emotional trust and attachments that people invest when looking to meet someone," says Heather Clayton, senior director of the OFT's consumer group. The OFT says dating site users should take the following steps to avoid becoming victims:
• Know what you are paying for and what the dating agency promises to provide in return.
• If you receive any requests for money, be suspicious, even if you have known the person for a number of weeks.
• Be sceptical and ask yourself simple questions, for example, "Why am I the only person who can help them, when I have just met them?"
• If you meet somebody unknown to you, always meet in a public place and take a friend with you for support if you are unsure.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) adds that if you do decide to travel to meet an online friend, particularly if you go abroad, tell someone trustworthy where you are going, plan regular contacts and agree what they should do if you miss a contact.
original article found here