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Relationships can bring joy and love, but online dating and sweetheart scams can cause problems for romance seekers.

Online dating offers many options to people looking for relationships, but it’s important to read the website’s terms and conditions before signing up.

Sweetheart Scams

When building a relationship with someone you’ve met online, be wary of sweetheart scammers seeking to earn your trust and take your money.

Sweetheart scammers are con artists who prey on lonely people by pretending to fall in love with them in order to win their trust and steal their money. While sweetheart scams can happen face-to-face, they often take place online.

Scammers frequently create fake identities on dating websites and social media like Match, SeniorPeopleMeet, ChristianMingle, and Facebook. Some scammers create phony dating websites to get your credit card number and other private information.

Signs of a sweetheart scam:

  • The recent death of a spouse or some other tragic event can attract sweetheart scammers.
  • The scammer will often claim to be a U.S. citizen traveling or working overseas, for example with the military or as a teacher or a nurse.
  • The scammer will ask to move the conversation to email or text message instead of communicating via the dating or social networking site.
  • Sweetheart scammers are consistently positive and upbeat, and they present a façade of unconditional love that seems highly comforting.
  • The scammer may wait months before asking for money. The con artist convinces the victim that they are in a deep and committed relationship during a painstaking grooming period that can last many months.
  • Sweetheart scammers often use one of these reasons for needing your money:
    • Airline tickets or travel documents to come to the United States
    • Bribes that must be paid before they can leave the country
    • Communication costs like a phone bill or Internet access
    • School tuition, so they can graduate and come to the U.S.
    • A “temporary” financial setback
    • A professional crisis that results in personal losses, like banking, finance, or overseas construction projects
    • Urgent medical expenses
    • To help them recover from a robbery or a mugging
  • Once the money is paid, the scammer promises to come to the U.S, continue the relationship in person, and get married. Victims of sweetheart scams feel that they are in a committed relationship and want to believe that the scammer is telling the truth. But if they send money, more excuses and requests for money will inevitably follow.
  • Victims may experience profound grief at the loss of the relationship once they accept that it was a scam. The lost money, often thousands of dollars, adds insult to injury. The victim may also feel too embarrassed to tell anyone what has happened.
  • Victims may become targets for another wave of scams. The sweetheart may confess to planning the scam but then claim to have actually fallen in love with the victim during the process. The scammer then asks for money to help escape a bind so they can finally be together. A new perpetrator may also pose as an official in the country where the scammer lives, offering to return the victim’s lost money for a fee.
  • Other variations of the sweetheart scam:
    • The scammer sends the victim money orders to cash and wire the money back, but the money orders are later found to be counterfeit, making the victim responsible for the lost funds.
    • Sweetheart scammers sometimes ask their victims to make online purchases for them or to forward a package to another country. The victims then serve as mules to complete illegal schemes.

Online Dating

Online dating has helped many people find relationships, but not all online dating websites and users are legitimate. Before you sign up for a dating site or begin communicating with someone you’ve met online, read these tips to avoid scams.

Dating websites come in various costs and approaches. Some charge monthly fees, while others allow you to register and browse their members’ profiles for free but charge you to communicate with other members. Sites like J-Date and OurTime target specific populations, while others like Match and eHarmony are open to anyone.

Remember that dating services are businesses designed to make money, not matches. Experts discount claims that dating sites are scientifically proven to help you find the right partner.

Some online dating sites are working to become safer by running criminal background checks on prospective members, but precautions remain necessary.

To avoid online dating scams:

  • Take your time. Select your online dating service carefully, and ask for recommendations from trusted friends.
  • Do your research. Learn how your online dating site operates. Remember that your dating site should have a physical address, phone number, and email address.
  • Get a copy of your contract, and know the terms. Read the fine print to avoid unexpected charges, and know how to unsubscribe from the dating site. Under North Carolina law, you can cancel your contract within three days of signing it if you notify the company in writing.
  • Protect your profile. Make sure the dating site you choose promises not to sell your data to third parties or advertisers. Know what happens to your profile when you stop using the service.
  • Share your information carefully. Avoid sharing personal information–especially your address or account numbers–with anyone online.
  • Keep your guard up. Avoid anyone who says they can only communicate with you online; asks you to email outside of an online dating site; or claims that they are wealthy, foreign citizens. If you set up a date with someone you’ve connected with online, choose a safe, public place.
  • Never send money to someone you’ve never met in person, even if their story sounds convincing.

We Can Help

Although many victims of online dating and sweetheart scams are hesitant to come forward, we strongly encourage people to report these scams. If you experience an online dating scam or sweetheart scam, contact us or call toll free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.