When looking for love online, watch for pirates

Originally published on clarionledger.com, 9/11/2013

PDF: When looking for love online, watch for pirates

Millions ofAmericans are looking for love online. Every day, it seems, a new service pops up, promising to help you meet your soulmate, who is just waiting for you to contact him or her. Special “niche” dating sites promise to link people in certain groups. If you farm, love horses, eschew Microsoft, or speak Klingon, you can find a potential love interest among like-minded fellow seekers.

While success stories abound, there is also much heartbreak on the online dating scene. Of course, you’ll never hear about it in their glitzy ads, but it’s there.Adding insult to the potential injury is the involvement of scammers. Increasingly, the same heartless thugs who take money from little old church ladies and promise to connect you with your incoming ship of fortune — “just-give-me-your-account-number” — have learned there is much lucre to be had in breaking hopeful hearts.

An interesting study of one such scam network called the “Nigerian Yahoo Boys” sheds some light on some of their tactics, even including Voodoo (I am not making this up!)

While I’m no cynic concerning affairs of the heart (I have found my soulmate and can gush poetry as much as the next Romeo), I do fear for those who ply the deeps of cyberspace searching for that one person with whom they can “fill in the missing colors of each other’s paint-by-number dreams” — apologies to Jackson Browne. There are pirates, sharks even, in those waters.

Recently, the website Usa.gov has put Americans on notice that online dating is rife with risk. Here are a couple of examples.

International Con Artists may claim to be American, but are working or traveling abroad. After luring you into their virtual lair, they pour their heart out about some misfortune that has befallen them. Of course, the want you to wire them some money to help. The trap is sprung.

The FBI warns that less suave con men (or women) may resort to more brutish tactics, threatening to blackmail you by posting intimate details of your online flirtation: “Which account would you like to use to make the payment?”

But, like the intrepid hunters who have recently rid Mississippi streams of ancient alligators — thus sparing the world from the dangers caused by their yellowing teeth — help cometh your way. There are many online resources, but one of the best is at Wiredsafety.com.

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