As online retailers and dating sites gear up for Valentine’s Day this weekend, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned of internet dating scams that can leave you heart-broken and out of pocket.
As part of its Scams Awareness month, the OFT said the increased potential to meet new people online is being used by scammers to con people out of their money. Scammers target singles columns and dating websites to search for potential victims, and create fictitious online profiles or send out unsolicited emails or letters, often with fake photographs.
‘Scammers then use the trust gained to persuade victims to part with large sums, with some frauds going on for years. This typically involves saying they would like to meet you but are stranded and don’t have money to travel or cover visa costs. They may also say that they or a family member require urgent treatment for an illness,’ a spokesperson for the organisation said.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) is working globally to target criminal groups responsible for some of these scams. One recent case involved a British national who was kidnapped after travelling to West Africa believing they would be met by someone with whom they had established an online friendship.
Online dating advice
The OFT-managed advice service Consumer Direct offers the following advice to make using internet dating websites safer:
- Know what you are paying for and what the dating agency promises to provide in return.
- If you receive any requests for money from potential suitors, 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.
Heather Clayton, Senior Director of the OFT’s Consumer group, said: ‘The internet is now an established way to meet and connect with new people, but those meeting on dating and other sites need to be on their guard against potential dating scams. 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.’
Find out more about protecting yourself when online dating with our guide.
Valentine’s Day email spam
Meanwhile, Which? has warned that Valentine’s Day-related spam is set to rocket this weekend.
Which? tech expert Al Warman said: ‘Even consumers not signed up to online dating websites should beware of Valentine’s Day being hijacked by spammers. Spammers often use emotional exploitation to target users. So if you receive email attachments such as slide shows, video clips or e-cards, often purporting to contain a personalised romantic message, exercise extreme caution.
‘Love may be blind, but don’t blindly open email attachments from unknown sources, or click on links from social networking sites. And take precautions – there’s no excuse for not having antivirus and antispam software installed on your PC. Which? tests and recommends the best free security software so you don’t get infected this Valentine’s Day.’
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