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Online Dating Scams

Seniors need to just say "no" to online dating scams

Once money is sent to a supposed lover, it is gone for good

It used to be parents who worried about their children being picked up by unsavory types in bars and other seedy hang-outs. Now children are worried about their parents being hoodwinked by the scam artists who haunt online dating sites.

"I am a bit past age 50 --- well educated lady; (I thought that I was so smart that it couldn't happen to me --- my college education is no match for a professional criminal)," said one of a seemingly endless stream of scam victims who hav...

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    Researchers: dating sites have it all wrong

    New system relies less on what consumers say they are searching for

    While it is true that some people successfully find good, lasting relationships on online dating sites, it is also true that many end up frustrated and disappointed.

    Rochelle, a Match.com user from Irvine, Calif., says she has found a troubling pattern with the men she has met online: they aren't telling the truth, she says.

    “I've noticed that a lot of men are lying about their age,” Rochelle writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I set my age limit at 45 and about a quarter of the men contacting me are no way even close to 45. Try 55-65! Also, a lot of men use very old pics. Sorry, but any picture older than 2-3 years is irrelevant.”


    Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) think Rochelle might unknowingly be onto something. Not that people are dishonest when they use an online dating site but there's a disconnect -- what they say doesn't really match what they truly want.

    Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in UI's College of Business, and UI doctoral student Xi Wang are part of a team that has developed an algorithm for dating sites that uses a person's contact history to recommend partners with whom they may be more romantically compatible.

    Netflix model

    It's similar to the model Netflix uses to recommend movies users might like by tracking their viewing history. For example, you might not pick a particular movie to watch but Nexflix, analyzing the movies you've watched in the past, says “hey, you might like this one.” In a way, it's putting the computer in computer dating.

    Dating sites are taking notice. Zhao says he's had preliminary discussions with two dating services who have expressed interest in learning more about the model. Since it doesn't rely on profile information, Zhao says it can also be used by other online services that match people, such as a job recruiting or college admissions.

    The system was developed with the help of a popular commercial online dating company whose identity is being kept confidential. The research team looked at 475,000 initial contacts involving 47,000 users in two U.S. cities over a 196-day span. Of the users, 28,000 were men and 19,000 were women, and men made 80 percent of the initial contacts.

    The data showed that just 25% of those initial contacts were actually reciprocated. To improve that results, Zhao's team developed a model combining two factors to recommend contacts: a client's tastes, determined by the types of people the client has contacted; and attractiveness/unattractiveness, determined by how many of those contacts are returned and how many are not.

    Better predictor

    Zhao believes those two factors, taste and attractiveness, do a better job of predicting successful connections than relying on information that clients enter into their profile, because what people put in their profile may not always be what they're really interested in. And from Rochelle's observation, they could also be intentionally misleading.

    Zhao goes a step further, suggesting the average user of an online dating site might not really know themselves well enough to know their own tastes in the opposite sex. A man who says on his profile that he likes tall women may in fact be approaching mostly short women, even though the dating website will continue to recommend tall women.

    "Your actions reflect your taste and attractiveness in a way that could be more accurate than what you include in your profile," Zhao says.

    Another way of saying, actions speak louder than words. Zhao says that eventually, the algorithm will notice that while a client says he likes tall women, he keeps asking out short women, and will change its recommendations to start suggesting that he contact short women.

    If it works for movies, it should work for dates, Zhao says.  

    While it is true that some people successfully find good, lasting relationships on online dating sites, it is also true that many end up frustrated and dis...
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    Online dating site reveals HIV/STD status, suit charges

    PositiveSingles.com violates its privacy pledge, two women allege

    So let's say just for argument's sake that you are HIV-positive, or perhaps you have a sexually-transmitted disease. Makes it kind of hard to find a date, no?

    Ah, but there's an online dating site that caters to folks in your situation. It's called PositiveSingles.com and it lures clients by painting itself as a "warm-hearted and exclusive community for singles and friends with STDS." It also promises confidentiality.

    And therein lies the problem, a class action lawsuit claims. The suit charges that PositiveSingles.com is in fact part of a vast miasma of dating sites run by SuccessfulMatch.com.

    That would perhaps by OK except that user profiles are shared among the many SuccessfulMatch-affiliated sites, the suit charges, according to Courthouse News Service.

    When the profiles of users from PositiveSingles show up on the other dating sites, their HIV and STD status is there for all to see, say the two plaintiffs, unidentified women from Canada and Washington state.

    The PositiveSingles site promised a free -- and "fully anonymous" -- profile in a "100 percent confidential and comfortable community," according to the complaint. And the registration page assured that it would not disclose, rent or sell personally identifiable information to third parties.

    The lawsuit seeks class action status. The attorney for the plaintiffs is Robert Green, of Green & Noblin, Larkspur, Calif.

    So let's say just for argument's sake that you are HIV-positive, or perhaps you have a sexually-transmitted disease. Makes it kind of hard to find a date, ...
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    Technology makes online cheating easier

    But beware, the tech world isn't as private as you think

    We're living in an interconnected world. We've gone from surfing the Internet at our desk at home to connecting with friends through social media on the go, using a growing array of mobile devices.

    All this technology may make us more productive and plugged-in, but it may also be leading us astray, making it easier to cheat on a spouse or partner – and it makes us more subject to betrayal.

    Let's start with Facebook. The social networking site, with nearly a billion members, allows us to keep up with what our friends are doing. But it has also put us in touch with old friends from our past and provided a seemingly private, back-channel way to communicate with them.

    According to Divorce Online, social media has become a factor in one in three divorces in the UK. The site says what people post not only causes marital friction but can be used as evidence in a divorce trial.

    Seeds of an affair

    While there are no hard numbers to confirm this, it can be safely assumed that all that chatting, flirting and interacting online can sow the seeds of an affair, a virtual one at first but perhaps later, the real thing.

    The British website MyCheating reports a huge spike in female membership on UK “cheating” websites among married women over 30. It links the spike to another technology trend, the 2012 “Fifty Shades/Mummy Porn” e-book phenomenon.

    "The Internet, and specifically social networks, have changed the way we interact with each other,” said Victoria Coxen, co-founder at MyCheating. “And one of the negative consequences is that it has become easier for people to cheat. Social media and technological advancements have put temptation at our fingertips, and this is demonstrated by the meteoric rise in extra-marital encounters.”

    Recipe for disaster

    Which brings us to online dating. When married people go to a dating website and post a phony bio in hopes to starting a relationship, it is usually a recipe for disaster.

    A spouse hoping to meet someone for a romantic affair can do so from the privacy of his or her computer, though sometimes a misdirected email can be their undoing. In 2011 ConsumerAffairs received a complaint from a woman who said an online dating site had emailed her husband recommendations for potential dates. She was angry at the dating site's “mistake” and hadn't quite figured out it might not be a mistake.

    Online dating sites can be used to cheat another way. Dating scams abound on most dating websites when one of the parties pretends to be something they are not. Barbara, of Central, S.C., recently reported meeting a man on Match.com and carrying on what seemed like a normal online relationship for four months.

    More and more money

    “He needed to go to Malaysia on business, and when he came back, we were to get married,” Barbara wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “He got over there and things were more than Michael expected so he needed $1,000 till he got back, then another $1,000. Then finally, he came home but he needed more money. I didn't think much about it then; supposedly he was at the airport and had a heart attack and was in the hospital for two weeks. Now, he can't leave. They kept his passport because he couldn't pay the bill.”

    So Barbara gave “Michael” her credit card, which ended up getting maxed out. When she went back to the dating site to look for his profile, she said it was gone.

    Are fraud and infidelity on the rise because of technology? It seems that way. As the use of social media becomes second nature, individuals may be forgetting its very public nature. You aren't just sharing private thoughts with online friends. It's more public than you realize.

    So, be careful what you write on your wall!

    We're living in an interconnected world. We've gone from surfing the Internet at our desk at home to connecting with friends through social media on the go...
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    You met him on the Internet? Check your bank account

    That online romance tease may be a con job

    Looking for love in all the right places? The Internet may not be one of them.

    That guy or gal who professes to be your soul mate or the love of your life may, according to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, be a con artist on the make for cash.

    One popular scam involves supposed romantically minded members of the U.S. military. In one recent case, a Hillsboro, Ore., woman lost more than $750,000 to someone she thought was a lonely soldier.

    And the G.I. con job is just one of many scams out there. Over the years ConsumerAffairs has received a large number of reports from dating site users who became emotionally involved with someone online, only to find out they were being scammed.

    David, of Loveland, Colo., said he fell for a romance scam when he thought he was helping a young Russian woman stranded in a foreign country.

    "Since then I have been approached on every dating site I have joined by supposed women who are stranded in Nigeria or Ghana," David wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "When the dating sites are notified they are scammers they do nothing about it."

    What to do

    Rosenblum advises consumers to be skeptical of any Internet claim. The web's anonymity means that you cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality or even gender of your new “paramour.”

    Many times these con artists are in foreign countries using untraceable email addresses. Once a connection is made, they begin asking for money for any number of things ranging from medical bills to the cost of a wedding.

    Accounts are routed through numerous locations utilizing pay-per-hour Internet cyber cafes, which makes finding the crook and getting money back difficult, if not impossible.

    Safety tips

    Here are a few tips to help you stay safe:

    • Do not wire money to someone you have not met in person. Be wary of warp-speed proclamations of love, particularly if they are accompanied by pleas for cash.
    • Be suspicious if you never get to actually speak with the person on the phone or are told they will not receive letters in the mail. Legitimate servicemen and women serving overseas will often have an APO or FPO in their mailing address.
    • Do not send money or ship property to a third party or company, especially to parties or companies in an African country.
    • If you think you have been scammed by an individual claiming to be a member of the U.S. military, contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI.
    Looking for love in all the right places? The Internet may not be one of them. That guy or gal who professes to be your soul mate or the love of your live...
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    Despite the pitfalls, more relationships starting online

    And more than ever, you have to be careful out there

    If you've had a bad experience with online dating, here's some more bad news. A relationship expert suggests it's the way people get together now. The numbers are in online dating's favor.

    “There are 54 million single Americans today,” said Wichita State University’s Deborah Ballard-Reisch, who has researched the subject of communication and relationships for about 20 years. “Forty million of them are online in one way or another. You have a better chance of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right today than you ever have.”

    So far, Viola, of South Carolina, isn't convinced, after signing up with a dating site.

    “The few guys I did chat with were clearly looking for flings,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “Also, I have noticed that since signing up, they don't send emails telling me when someone has flirted or sent emails like before I signed up (I guess they have my money now). I wish I had spent my $80 on a new pair of shoes!”

    Maybe Viola would have better luck if she joined activities at church or took a class. You might meet someone with common interests but that universe is small compared to the online world.

    Less in-person contact

    “We used to develop romantic relationships with people we went to school with or knew through church, or family or friends introduced us to, and now we supplement that by meeting people online,” Ballard-Reisch said. “And the world of people available to us has exploded exponentially because of that.”

    But that's not always a good thing. While the opportunity to get to know others has increased because of online dating, Ballard-Reisch says people need to be aware of some of the risks. One of the biggest, mentioned frequently in ConsumerAffairs posts about dating sites, is fraud.

    “This site is full of scammers,” complained Chris, of Milwaukee. “I have been asked for money by subscribers several times. I see the same members posting under a different username.”

    “There are a number of international consortiums that get on online dating sites and pretend to be someone they’re not in order to get money out of people,” Ballard Reisch said. “So if someone asks you to send them money, especially out of the country, run.”

    Language clues

    Sometimes it's obvious you are being scammed. Sometimes, there are more subtle tell-tale clues.

    “One of the things to look out for in online dating is that, when people claim language fluency and then they have grammar and syntax and spelling errors, if their language doesn’t seem right, it likely isn’t,” Ballard-Reisch.

    Even if you are convinced the person you are striking up a relationship with is who they appear to be, it's wise to take nothing for granted. Sadly, it's guilty until proven innocent.

    “This might sound coarse, but so much information is available to us online now, if you’re thinking of meeting someone you have met only online, Google them,” Ballard-Reisch said. “Use multiple search engines. Consider seeking criminal background checks. Make sure that people are who they say they are.”

    Safety tips

    She has other online dating safety tips; If you decide to meet someone in person that you’ve spoken with only online, always meet in a public place the first few times. Drive yourself. Let your friends and family know where you’re going, with whom and when you plan to return. Have a panic word in case you have a quick second to call them if you need help. And keep your phone online so you can be tracked through GPS if necessary.

    That might sound a little extreme, but Balland-Reisch says it's simply a prudent precaution. Just last month a Las Vegas woman sued Match.com after she said she was stabbed by a man she met on the dating site. We used to be able to rely on our support networks — our family and friends — to vet people for us. When we meet people online, we can’t do that anymore.

    And more and more, we are meeting people online. Despite all the nightmare stories and bad experiences, Ballard-Reisch says an estimated one in five romantic relationships start online today.

    If you've had a bad experience with online dating, here's some more bad news. A relationship expert suggests it's the way people get together now. The numb...
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    Woman sues Match.com after being stabbed by her date

    Others complain Match doesn't respond to their complaints about unsavory characters

    We hear from lots of consumers who say their Match.com dating experience was poor but few can top Mary Kay Beckman's complaint.

    The 50-year-old Las Vegas woman is suing Match.com for $10 million, saying she was brutally stabbed and beaten by a man the dating site set her up with.

    Other consumers have told ConsumerAffairs that sexually-menacing and deceptive men remain on Match.com even after they are repeatedly reported to the site's managers.

    Beckman said she and Wade Ridley, 53, dated for eight days in September of 2010 before she called it off. But a few months later, an enraged Ridley broke into Beckman's house and stabbed her several times with a butcher knife while stomping on her head and neck, according to Fox 5 Las Vegas.

    Beckman said Ridley told police he had intended to kill her, not just hurt her. While being questioned by police, he allegedly admitted to killing 62-year-old Anne Simenson, an Arizona woman he’d also met on Match.com, in early 2011. She was stabbed with a butcher knife and a machete.

    Inadequate warnings

    Beckman's suit argues that Match.com does not adequately warn clients that it may pair them up with people who are dangerous.

    The company called the suit “absurd” and said it will argue that it can't be held responsible for what its members do on their own time.

    Consumers rate Match.com
    "The many millions of people who have found love on Match.com and other online dating sites know how fulfilling it is," the company said in a statement. This is about a sick, twisted individual with no prior criminal record, not an entire community of men and women looking to meet each other."

    Could be, but that's not how Sandy of Nottingham, England, remembers her Match.com experience.

    She said she was hounded by sexually expicit emails from a man in  London insisting that he wanted to marry her. A meeting was arranged at a bar but Sandy said the man looked "disgusting" and she left quickly.

    "I then sent him a message and told him that I thought he was too old for me. However, when I got back, he would not take rejection and tried again to meet me," she said. "I decided to report it to Match.com and he is still on the website now. The Match team did not do anything to remove this man from the site but I think he is sexually harassing and abusing women.

    "He brags that he can get sex on the website 7 days per week if he wanted to. I decided to immediately remove myself from the site," she said. "Despite complaining on numerous occasions to Match.com, no one did anything about it. I felt very angry and disappointed with the Match.com team and moreover that there is no policing of these emails, etc. How can Match.com not do anything to protect vulnerable women?"

    Not alone

    Sandy is not alone. Ellie of St. Audries, England, had a similar experience with the same man.

    "This man was on the face of his profile a responsible man and supposed to be a 55-year-old gentleman, who ran his own business. He turned out to be nothing more than a sex pervert who was clearly not using the site to date but made it clear that he could get sex on the website 7 days per week," Ellie said. "I reported this man as a concern but he is still allowed on the site even now."

    Karen of Ajax, Ontario, said she met a man who claimed to live in her area and to be single and 40. In fact, she said, a background check found that he lived in San Francisco, was 50 and married.

    "His entire profile was a lie," Karen said. "I reported him to Match.com so that his profile can be removed because there were too many discrepancies in the information he provided."

    But Karen said the same man kept reappearing under different user names.

    "I called Match.com and they told me that they can't do anything about the situation because they only look at the username and deal with the username alone for the issue," she said. "So basically, if this guy was a rapist or sexual offender, the user can come back again and again on the website even if Match.com checks their current Match.com predators with the sex offenders list as they say they will."

    t was an online dating match made in hell.A Las Vegas woman is suing Match.com for $10 million dollars after being brutally stabbed and beaten by a m...
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    How Did Offline Dating Become New Again?

    More online dating companies are trying to get you away from your keyboard

    Somehow online dating has become so normal, that offline dating almost seems like a novelty. This is the thinking and marketing approach many dating sites like Match.com are now using, with its newly developed social mixers called “The Stir.”

    The Stir events, which have been heavily advertised on television, are organized gatherings of Match.com subscribers, and the events include Happy Hour get-togethers, cooking classes, bowling parties, and Tequila tastings.

    Consumers rate Match.com

    The online dating site has starting rolling out these events in twenty U.S. cities earlier this summer, including areas like New York, and San Francisco. Match has said the events will be coming to more cities in the near future.

    So far, general Internet chatter about the social mixers has ranged from great to less than satisfactory.

    Some people attending the mixers said the events were more or less glorified bar scenes, and many who showed up seemed to be completely different from their profile picture and background information. However, others said they felt the mixers were a good experience and they felt comfortable knowing everybody in the room was already single and looking to meet someone.

    A few female Match subscribers said they didn't meet their soulmate during one of the events, but they met other women subscribers that eventually became friends.

    Not just Match

    Match.com isn't the only dating site that's marketing the possibilities of offline dating. Companies like howaboutwe are also trying to get their subscribers to meet-up for a date or just hangout face-to face.

    Here's how it works: The site sends profiles to subscribers so you can communicate virtually with someone you're interested in. Once you get to a level of comfort you set up an in-person meeting.

    Unlike other online dating sites, where actual dates also transpire, howaboutwe's main purpose is to establish in-person meetings, instead of its members speaking online and hoping a date will soon happen.

    This site is also new so our readers have not yet commented on how useful howaboutwe is, but overall customer reviews throughout the Internet haven't been all that great.

    One user said that although the site is being promoted on television, and seems very popular, the number of paid users on the website is relatively low.

    Since many people that are signed up only have free access to the site, paid users aren't able to have many of their messages read. A good portion of the people they're interested in aren't forking over the necessary amount of bucks to have full access.

    Testing the waters

    Prices to join the site range from $36.99 for a one month subscription, to $119.88 for one year access, which may cause some people to simply use the free features just to test the Internet dating waters without jumping in.

    And they have a right to be cautious, as according to a study published by the University of Rochester, many subscribers are let down by their Internet connections once they meet in person.

    The authors of the study found that virtual exchanges and Internet flirting can lead one to be idealistic as it pertains to finding a lasting romantic connection.

    “People with strong beliefs in romantic destiny (sometimes called soulmate beliefs) are especially likely to exit a romantic relationship when problems arise, the authors wrote. “And to become vengeful in response to partner aggression when they feel insecure in the relationship.”

    But that doesn't stop other companies from providing off-line dating services.

    This grouper's not a fish

    Sites like Grouper, that match people according to their Facebook profiles, have also thrown their hat in the circle of online/offline dating.

    The way it works is, once two people are virtually connected they are told to each bring two more friends along on the first outing.

    This makes it a three-couple date, which theoretically diminishes any awkwardness associated with a blind date. Because let's face it, even though you've been chatting with someone online for months on end, doesn't mean you really know who the person truly is.

    Once you have your two friends gathered, and come up with $20 each — the cost of going on the set-up date — Grouper picks the location, and springs for the first round of drinks for you and the whole group.

    The selected venue locations are currently only in New York City, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

    On the other end of the dating scale, you have old-fashioned offline dating companies like Selective Search, which says it’s an upscale boutique, personal matchmaking firm.

    According to the company website, 48 percent of its clients need only three meetings with a person before a true connection is made, and 34 percent said they meet their ultimate love on the very first date.

    These numbers sound a bit padded, but a large amount of people, who can afford it, still use these traditional matchmaking services over online dating sites.


    In theory, companies like Selective Search provide a more one-on-one specialized service, and tend to be a better filter against those who misrepresent themselves when trying to meet somebody.

    Kenneth, of Chicago, used Selective Search, and initially was completely dissatisfied with the nationwide company. Here's what he wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review

    “I thought I would meet women I would want to marry (and vice versa) and would be a huge improvement over Match.com. So I went to Barbie to find the 'one'. The cost? $20,000 for seven introductions and one year of service.”

    He also wrote: “Girls see all of the SS advertisements, simply sign-up online, and then my 'personal recruiter' picks out a couple of hotties and hopes it will stick! You know what that is? Match.com with a middleman at 100x the cost,” he wrote.

    Apparently, Selective Search caught wind of Kenneth's complaints and tried to make things better. Almost four months later Kenneth wrote:

    “It's been a few months and SS has done a good job trying to make things right. They gave me a new matchmaker and she has set me up with a couple of women. None of them have worked out but I appreciate SS going the extra mile to make me happy.”

    As with any dating service — whether it be on or offline — you should really not only do your homework before signing up, but also hold the company responsible for not living up to its claims.

    Also, be careful not to pour all of your hopes into making a romantic connection through a matchmaking service. Many times people make plans to marry, have kids and live happily ever after before ever meeting someone.

    Shouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, Shouldn't you meet the right person first, then develop the planning and decision making?

    Making the decision first — before actually meeting that special someone — can lead to a bad relationship result.

    Remember, neither fulfillment or happiness is synonymous with marriage or a heavy relationship, right?

    Somehow online dating has become so normal, that offline dating almost seems like a novelty.This is the thinking and marketing approach many dating ...
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    Hundreds of Thousands Scammed Via Dating Sites Yearly

    The average dating scam victim loses nearly $9,000 -- not counting the emotional cost

    Consumers rate eHarmony

    Love. It's both the most coveted and elusive emotion of all time. Songs are sung about either finding it or recovering from it, screen writers 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 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 sentiment analysis of about 140,000 social media postings over the last year.

    eHarmony sentiment

    eHarmony attributes

    Match.com seems to have profited from eHarmony's downfall, showing a distinct uptick over the last few weeks, as determined by a ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 110,000 social media postings.

    Match.com sentiment

    Match.com emotions

    $8,900 each

    Consumers rate Match.com

    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.

    Fake personas

    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.

    Reader reviews

    How did major dating sites like eHarmony fare with ConsumerAffairs 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 ConsumerAffairs 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. "It may be that I'm still erroneously being billed after not using the service for over three years."

    Did eHarmony competitors Match.com do any better in our ConsumerAffairs 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 4 to 6 per day. Right away, they ask for a Yahoo address, or send me a link to look at their "photos." Yesterday, 6/8 2012, 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.

    Love. It's both the most coveted and elusive emotion of all time. Songs are sung about either finding it or recovering from it, screen writers send story l...
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    California Toughens Rules for Dating Sites

    eHarmony, Match.com and Spark Networks sign on to new rules

    California is strengthening consumer protections for users of online dating sites, including the requirement that sites checking subscribers against national sex offender registries.

    Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said three of the nation's leading online dating providers have issued a joint statement of business principles that online dating providers should follow to help protect members from identity theft, financial scams and sexual predators. 

    The agreement between the Attorney General and online dating providers eHarmony, Match.com and Spark Networks (operator of such websites as JDate and ChristianMingle), states that the companies will protect their members through the use of online safety tools, including checking subscribers against national sex offender registries and by providing a rapid abuse reporting system for members. 

    The websites also agreed to educate members about safe online dating practices, and will supply members with online safety tips, including fraud prevention guidance and tips for safely meeting people offline. These tips and financial scam warnings will be issued on an ongoing basis to registered members. 

    "Consumers should be able to use websites without the fear of being scammed or targeted. It is a priority for this office to ensure consumers are protected online, and companies who are creating in the Internet space have a continued opportunity to innovate and thrive," Harris said.

    Screen members

    Providers will continue their efforts to screen members for safety threats, whether financial or physical, using a number of protective tools, including looking for fake profiles and checking sex offender registries to prevent registered sex offenders from using their fee-based services. Any member who is identified as a registered sex offender will not be allowed to use these services. 

    This joint statement also ensures that the online dating service providers have rapid abuse reporting systems, which give members access to a website, email address and/or phone number to report any suspected criminal activity, including physical safety concerns and fraud. This agreement reflects best practices that these industry leaders are following. 

    "In the interest of protecting and educating users, I strongly encourage all online dating companies to adopt the same principles as these industry leaders," Attorney General Harris said. 

    California is strengthening consumer protections for users of online dating sites, including the requirement that sites checking subscribers against nation...
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    Report: Little Science Behind Online Dating Sites

    Researchers say dating sites could be a lot better

    Unheard-of just twenty years ago, online dating is now a billion-dollar industry and one of the most common ways for singles to meet potential partners. There are now hundreds of dating sites, all promising to help their clients meet the person of their dreams.

    While some people find happiness with an online romance, many more do not.

    “My sister paid for a three-month membership for me as birthday gift,” Mary, of Denver, Colo., told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I was contacted by a gentleman from another state who really put on the pressure for me to meet him in a grocery store parking lot. I felt extremely unsafe, so I discontinued the conversation. The next day, the account he used came up as a woman from another state.”

    In a report to be published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of researchers takes a look at online dating sites, identifying the ways in which online dating may benefit or undermine singles’ romantic outcomes.

    Beware of pitfalls

    Lead author Eli Finkel, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Northwestern University, says that online dating is a “marvelous addition to the ways in which singles can meet potential romantic partners,” but he warns that users need to be aware of its many pitfalls. Falling victim to a scam is one of those pitfalls.

    Scammers increasingly use online dating sites to establish an emotional link with someone, often spending weeks cultivating the relationship before requesting money.

    “I have been scammed by someone on Match.com,” said Stephanie, of Covington, Va. “I met this 'man' online. I never met him in person, but fell for his lies completely and was scammed out of thousands of dollars.”

    Some online dating sites claim that they possess an exclusive formula, a so-called “matching algorithm,” that can match singles with partners who are especially compatible with them. But, after systematically reviewing the evidence, the authors conclude that such claims are unsubstantiated and likely false.

    No compelling evidence

    “To date, there is no compelling evidence that any online dating matching algorithm actually works,” Finkel said. “If dating sites want to claim that their matching algorithm is scientifically valid, they need to adhere to the standards of science, which is something they have uniformly failed to do. In fact, our report concludes that it is unlikely that their algorithms can work, even in principle, given the limitations of the sorts of matching procedures that these sites use.”

    eHarmony.com promotes its personality questionnaire, designed to match couples for compatibility. But it, too, has its share of doubters.

    “The matches weren't based on the profile and there were a lot of days when there were no matches at all,” Nanette, of Scottsdale, Ariz., said.

    Harry Reis, another of the five co-authors of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, says any dating site's scientific claims “should be given little credence.” At the same time, though, he thinks the concept just needs more work.

    Just a few tweaks?

    “Online dating is definitely a new and much needed twist on relationships,” Reis said. “The Internet holds great promise for helping adults form healthy and supportive romantic partnerships, and those relationships are one of the best predictors of emotional and physical health.”

    Given the potentially serious consequences of intervening in people’s romantic lives, the authors said they hope that their report will push companies to build a more rigorous scientific foundation for online dating services. It recommends the creation of a panel that would grade the scientific credibility of each online dating site.

    “Thus far, the industry certainly does not get an A for effort,” said Finkel. “For years, the online dating industry has ignored actual relationship science in favor of unsubstantiated claims and buzzwords, like ‘matching algorithms,’ that merely sound scientific.”

    The 64-page analysis reviews more than 400 psychology studies and public interest surveys, painting what the authors call a full and fascinating picture of an industry that, according to one industry estimate, attracted 25 million unique users around the world in April 2011 alone. The report was commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science.

    Researchers find little science behind online dating services...
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    'Jane Doe' Comes Forward in Match.com Case

    Dating site says it will start screening for sex offenders

    The “Jane Doe” in the Match.com sexual assault case has revealed her identity, with her very own public relations agent praising her “heroic” action.

    Jane Doe, it turns out, is Carole Markin, who appeared on NBC's “Today” and ABC's “Good Morning America” today. Markin, a Harvard graduate and sometime screenwriter files suit against Match.com, alleging she was raped by a man she met on the dating site.

    An Associated Press report says Match.com will begin screening its members against a list of sexual predators but Match.com's media relations page contains nothing but bubbly press releases on other topics.

    Markin's claim against Match.com is seen as weakened by two factors, legal observers told ConsumerAffairs.com:

    • The alleged assault occurred in Markin's home on her second date; and

    • Match.com's Terms of Use clearly state that the site does not vet its members against lists of known sex offenders.

    Markin alleges in her suit that after the assault, she found her alleged assailant's criminal record by checking Internet databases, an action that more appropriately might have been taken prior to that critical second date, the legal observers noted.

    While Markin may have been unprepared initially, she is now well represented by Hollywood publicists who are papering the Internet and fax machines nationwide with press releases congratulating her for taking a stand.

    "Taking on a huge corporate giant like Match.com is a daunting task. I faced many naysayers, but I believed that Match.com could change their policies to protect their paying customers from convicted sexual predators," saidMarkinin one such press release. "I will continue to be vigilant in monitoring the rollout of Match.com's online sexual predator screening. "

    She said the lawsuit will remain open until Match.com makes good on its promise to implement the online sexual predator screening process.

    Consumer complaints

    While most complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com about Match.com have been about the company's marketing and auto-renewal policies, there have been complaints about the people clients have been matched with.

    "I thought of the usual precautions to take on a dating website, but was totally unaware that Match.com was frequented by multi level international scam artists," Kathleen, or Iron Mountain, Mich., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Sure enough, one 'winked' at me the first week I was on Match.com."

    It wasn't long, she said, before he started asking for money, always with a plausible reason.

    "The professional scammers could not exist if it wasn't for the dating websites that give them a ready-made list of victims to entrap," Kathleen said."

    Kimberly, of Laguna Beach, Calif., said she read the complaints about the type of people who were submitted as dates and really didn't believe it until she experienced it herself.

    "The matches I get sent to me look like they just got out of prison," Kimberly said. "I mean oh my God, I cannot believe the freaks I am sent."

    Last week, attorney Mark Webb told a news conference in Los Angeles that he had filed a civil action against Match.com on behalf of a Hollywood film executive, identified only as "Jane Doe."  Webb at the time said his client might seek a temporary restraining order to prevent Match.com from signing new clients until sexual predatory screening was in place.

    Webb said his client was brutally sexually assaulted by another Match.com member who had been convicted six times for sexual battery. Felony charges are currently pending against the man in Los Angeles Superior Court.

    Match.com will reportedly begin screening for sex offenders among its members....
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    Woman Sues Match.com After Her Date Allegedly Raped Her

    Suit seeks an injunction requiring the dating site to check its members' backgrounds

    More problems for Match.com. This time it's a Hollywood executive, identified only as Jane Doe, who says a man she met through Match sexually assaulted her. She has filed suit seeking an injunction to bar the dating site from signing up any more members until it can accurately screen them for sexual predators.

    It's just the latest in a series of suits and complaints from consumers who had experiences on Match.com that didn't quite match their expectations.

    In February, a class action suit in San Francisco claimed Match.com is “little more than a scheme” to bilk consumers and that more than 60 percent of the profiles on the dating site are “either inactive former users or fake or fraudulently posted by scammers and others.” A similar case was filed in Dallas in January.

    The San Francisco suit claims that many of the photos attached to profiles on Match.com are of “pornographic actresses and models, seemingly stolen from independent websites.”

    Because of “the danger associated with Match allowing male registered sexual predators to become its members,” the Jane Doe complaint says, the court should issue an injunction compelling it “to institute basic inexpensive screening processes.”

    Doe said in the suit that after her date attacked her, she went online and learned he had six convictions for sexual battery.

    In its Terms of Use, Match.com limits its liability and says that members are “solely responsible” for their interactions with other members.

    “You understand that Match.com does not in any way screen its members, nor does Match.com inquire into the backgrounds of its members or attempt to verify the statements of its members,” the terms state.

    But Doe says in her suit that the clause is “one-sided” and should be invalidated. Her attorneys would be expected to argue that the limitations do not extend to negligence.

    Doe also alleges that Match.com “breached its duty to provide services” under California's Consumer Protection Act because, despite being aware that sexual predators use the service, it has not adopted “a basic screening process that disqualifies from membership anyone who has a documented history of sexual assault.”

    “As a result of this breach, defendant exposes numerous members of its dating service to a grave risk of harm,” the suit says.

    On the other hand, Match.com would be expected to argue that its Terms of Use very clearly state that users are not vetted and that customers should exercise their own due diligence. If Jane Doe, for example, had checked her date's background before she went out with him, instead of afterwards, the alleged injury would presumably have been avoided.

    Doe has said that she did not know her date's last name when she agreed to go out with him. However, read far enough through her complaint and one discovers that the alleged rape occurred on the second date she had with the gentleman in question.

    The law is still evolving in this area. An Ohio federal judge upheld a waiver of liability provision in the case of a man who sued an online adult dating service for failing to verify that all its members were over the age of 18.

    “[G]iven the nature of Defendants' adult dating website (i.e., SexSearch cannot control its member's actions when they meet), the extent of potential liability is unpredictable and potentially astronomical,” U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary said in a 2007 case.

    Woman Sues Match.com After Her Date Allegedly Raped Her. Suit seeks an injunction requiring the dating site to check its members' backgrounds....
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