While most people who sign up on matchmaking sites are looking for love, Internet scammers are searching for victims who will let their hearts rule their heads.
Love. It’s both the most coveted and elusive emotion of all time. Songs are sung about either finding it or recovering from it, screenwriters send story lines on unrealistic tangents to secure romantic endings, and books are filled with characters searching and pining for it.
But in the last decade or so, the game of looking for love has gotten some new rules, with the venue moving from the bar world to the cyber world.
Instead of men searching for the right verbal approach, many now search for the right photo to put on their profile page. Instead of women deciding between flats or pumps, many are now choosing between eHarmony or Match.com. It must be hard for cupid to get a decent arrow shot when people now stay at home to begin their love quest.
But with recent reports about eHarmony passwords being hacked along with Linkedin passwords, people have to question: Are users really safe using dating sites when it comes to avoiding personal and financial harm? Whatever else may result from the hack attack, it sent consumers’ perceptions about eHarmony into the cellar, as determined by a ConsumerAffairs.com sentiment analysis of about 140,000 social media postings over the last year.
Match.com seems to have profited from eHarmony’s downfall, showing a distinct uptick over the last few weeks, as determined by a Consumer Affairs sentiment analysis of about 110,000 social media postings.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Americans were robbed of $50 million in online dating scams in 2011. Simplified, each online dater that was scammed, lost an average of $8,900 last year.
Out of the hundreds of thousands of cases filed with the IC3, only a small portion of victims went to the authorities. Some who were scammed felt embarrassed about being duped, while others didn’t want to admit using a dating site.
Dating websites are the perfect place for scammers. While most users are searching for love, Internet scammers are searching for victims. Consumers use sites like Christian Mingle and Chemistry.com, much differently than they use Amazon or iTunes, for example.
If a customer is purchasing a store product from a website, they typically have their guard up, and look out for shady dealings and unrealistic claims. If a retail site requests personal information, most are reluctant to give it.
But when people use a dating site, they sometimes bring emotions, vulnerability, or feelings of loneliness along in their dating search. This is an ideal situation for the Internet scammer, as they typically count on people to be preoccupied with achieving positive online dating results.
The IC3 said it fields an average of 15 date-site-related complaints a day. According to the government agency, it receives calls that equal a daily loss of nearly $138,000.
IC3’s 2011 Internet Crime Report consisted of 314,246 complaints last year. Out of those complaints, 115,903 spoke of a financial loss, and the monetary sum of those duped equaled $500 million. Sadly, many of those monetary losses were attached to romance scams. The IC3 report also showed that lonely, middle-aged, and elderly people are at equal risk of being tricked by a romance scam. People over the age of 40, those divorced, widowed, or disabled, are also common targets of dating site scammers.
Common crimes in dating site scams include users being asked for money. Both men and women have reported being asked for plane tickets, so the online companion can visit, and thrust the relationship towards a face-to-face interaction. Victims have also reported money requests for health issues, family funeral arrangements, and a host of other bleak sounding circumstances.
But dating site scams aren’t always based on finances. The sheer invisibility of the Internet allows people to adopt all kinds of fake personas and intentions. Married men, registered sex offenders and convicted con artists have all been busted for using dating sites, so be extra careful.
Under new regulations recently enacted in California, dating sites like Sparks Networks, Match.com and eHarmony have agreed to start using background checks on its sites, and other dating sites will soon do the same. The background check will search if users had past identity theft crimes, sexual assault cases or records of violence.
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris also said the sites will have “rapid abuse reporting systems,” which is a safety tutorial that shows people how to avoid romance scams and how to meet people offline in a safe manner.
How did major dating sites like eHarmony fare with Consumer Affairs readers? Not that well.
Theresa of South Haven, Mich. sadly writes, “I give up. I don’t have any luck connecting with someone and then when I do, they are scammers. I am a widow and these guys are breaking my heart all over again. I belong to a few other sites and it’s the same thing. I want to cancel my membership, and I would also like to see if I could get some of my money back. I feel that I have been ripped off.”
Other Consumer Affairs readers have tried to get their money back, but were unsuccessful.
“I tried repeatedly to cancel membership, and was not only continually billed, but despite five phone calls and reassurance with each call that a manager ‘at headquarters’ would call me to resolve matters, I was never contacted,” said Belinda of Vermont.
Did eHarmony competitors Match.com do any better in our Consumer Affairs complaints and review section? A big, fat, colossal-sized no.
Earlier this month, Steven of Ocala, Fla. wrote about eHarmony: “I have received mostly scammers’ winks, IMs and messages since I signed up. Right away, they ask for a Yahoo address, or send me a link to look at their “photos.” Yesterday, I received a dozen or so messages from a site called OurTime.com. First time I had ever heard from them or about them. They had my photos and profile from Match.com, and my credit card info. The same credit card I used to sign up for Match.com. Today, Saturday, I received a notice that they would be automatically billing my credit card $19.95 to renew my subscription.”
Mind you, Steven never signed up to be on OurTime.com in the first place.
What to do
So the moral of the online dating story is:
1.) Be sure to think long and hard before jumping headfirst into a dating site.
2.) Before joining, be sure you are fully aware of the sites reimbursement and cancellation clauses.
3.) Be sure to not let any scam, whether it be by a dating site or any other entity, go unchallenged.