Tips to Avoid Internet Dating Scams, Con artists and Fraud

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It pleases me no end to see my friend Casey Jones, a victim-turned-advocate, launch her new website Women Against Con Men (, a site aimed at supporting  the victims of con-artists.
WAC-M takes a proactive role in the prevention of women or men becoming victimized by con artists and encourages individuals to come out from hiding and fight back to prevent repeat serial con men from harming others. Casey has set up a database that exposes known criminally convicted con men in much the same way that states list the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. Read about Casey's story here.
Online dating sites are popular today and regardless of whether or not you find your Mr. or Mrs. right dating in the real-world or online, people are not always who they pretend to be.

In today's world of online dating, social networking and cyber crimes, it's important to look at the risks of getting to know someone who can easily misrepresent himself or mislead you.  I'm not suggesting that all you singles avoid online dating or live like hermits! Just please be aware of some of the basic dos and don't of online interactions.

Take the recent story of this Facebook impersonation scam.  A young man assumed the identity of someone else--in this case, a hero -a deceased U.S. Army Ranger--in order to make himself look more "interesting" to potential dates.  He never actually met any of his Facebook girlfriends, claiming to be shipping out whenever the requests for face time became too insistent.  Finally, the actual soldier's family learned what was going on and confronted the con man.  He has since taken down his fraudulent profile, but it seems he may be facing criminal charges.
So before you go looking online for the Mr. Right--or even Mr. Right Now--keep these basic safety tips in mind to ensure you avoid the trap of a potential con-artist.

1.    Be extremely wary of giving out personal information. There is no need to include your full name, address and a link to your Facebook page on your online dating profile. DO NOT over share! Don not include any phone numbers/IM addresses/work information/financial details etc. on your profile. These details can be exchanged with a person that you have met online LATER, once you have generated a sufficient amount of trust. Only disclose information relevant to an online conversation. Immediately steer clear of anyone who pushes you to disclose personal information before you are ready.

2.    Use an alternate e-mail account or create a new one that you wish to use solely for online dating. This is a very good practice to follow online. Exchanging e-mail addresses is usually taken as a token of trust online. Create a new account on any of the major e-mail platforms on the web (Yahoo/MSN/Google) and use this specifically to communicate with your online dates. An added advantage of having a separate account is that you can filter information in your dating inbox more clearly if it is not mixed with work or personal emails.

3.    When you do decide to meet someone in person, choose a public place. Performing some due diligence can help you avoid potentially awkward situations.  First dates can be as generic as lunch or a coffee, but it helps to meet in a public place during the day.  Avoid dark nightclubs and late hours.  Do not allow your date to pick you up at home until you are completely comfortable with disclosing your place of residence--after a few dates.

4.    Do not be afraid to ask for photos. This is a major sticking point for many people online. Most of us think that it is rude to ask people for their latest photographs because the potential date might think you are trying to gauge whether he or she is ugly.  That's not what the photo is about at this stage. One reason a person might withhold sending a photograph is that the picture might not match their profile.  Without that snapshot, how would you know?  Make exchanging recent photographs mandatory before deciding to meet someone.

5.    Phone conversation must always be a precursor to meeting in real life, but there are still precautions you must take. The first time you ever talk to someone you met online, do not use your work or home phone. Use a cell phone if you have one. You can learn a lot more about a person from the way they speak than you can in a few e-mails or IM sessions. If you plan to see someone regularly in the future, then the way they talk and the sound of their voice can be an extremely important factor. Background checks are always a great option when considering taking a second or third date..

6.    Be aware, and beware. Because the online dating field offers so many opportunities for frauds, scams, and cons, you can't let your guard down for a minute.  Watch out for these red flags:

• Unwillingness to exchange photographs.
• Fake display pictures (like celebrity photographs)
• No display pictures at all
• Blank or extremely vague "About Me" and other descriptive sections on the profile.

Predators of all sorts frequent social networking sites but if you keep these simple tips in mind you can rest assured that your online dating experience will be as free of con-artists as you can make it. Better safe than sorry. 

Have a hero who turned into a zero? Let us know. 
Don't forget to visit Casey Jone's site here: 
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