Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

On the most romantic day of the year, the Office of Fair Trading is warning of a scam in which a person creates a false profile at an online dating agency, makes contact on the pretence of seeking romance, and then steals your money.

Sites like Dating Direct and Match.com compete in a lucrative market. According to the BBC, there are 12 million singletons in the UK. The OFT notes that while the vast majority of those who sign up to such agencies are genuine, some scam artists are out to trap the unwary.

At first the scammer will try to convince you that you are in a loving relationship. The next logical step is for them to come to meet you. The only problem is they don’t have enough money to travel to see you.

The OFT says they will then ask you to send the money via a money transfer agent, such as Western Union – so that they are untraceable. Other reasons they give for why they need your financial help include: I am stranded abroad and I don’t have money for travel or visa; I have been robbed and beaten; or I require urgent surgery and you are the only person who can help me.

The OFT also warns of young and beautiful dates. "This could be because the scammer has used a stolen picture," it observes.

Beware of online dates who only supply a PO Box address and a telephone number which he or she never answers and which does not have voicemail. Also watch out if your new online date talks a lot about themselves and does not answer your questions: it's probably because they are sending standard e-mails to hundreds of people.

The OFT says UK consumers lose about £1 billion per year to a variety of scams which exploit low-cost, mass-marketing techniques. Many of these scams originate overseas, making detection and prosecution difficult.

To protect yourself from falling victim to an online dating scam the OFT recommends that you never, ever send money or reveal your bank details to someone you don’t know, however plausible they sound; stop, think and be sceptical: is this person who they really say they are? And ask for advice. You can get it from Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06. Also report the scammer to the dating agency.

The OFT recommends that you follow a dating agency’s tips for safe online dating which typically include:

  • Do not give out any personal details. Do not give out your personal or work telephone number, e-mail address, home address or place of work.
  • Always try and meet someone who lives locally. Make use of the online search engines on dating sites which matches you with someone who lives closest to your postcode address.
  • Be sceptical if a person who is not your usual dating type offline is showing you particular attention online. (An example is if you are a person over 50 and you are being frequently contacted by a person under 30).
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