How do you avoid opening your heart — and your wallet — to a prince or princess too charming to be true? Start by taking these precautions. Never reveal personal data to someone until you meet face-to-face and develop a level of trust. Pay attention to language. Many of those who commit these crimes are from West Africa and the former Soviet republics. Use search engines to check out suitors.
When Bernstein met someone online who seemed too good to be true, she cut and pasted one of his e-mails into Google. Lo and behold, the exact words popped up on several websites devoted to romance scams. According to Bernstein, this will allow you to see where on the Internet the photo has appeared. Stick to paid online dating sites. If members shell out money to register, that means credit cards are on file, Bernstein points out. They just may have fewer of them. Be suspicious if someone wants to immediately start communicating through IM and e-mail.
They may want access to your computer in order to steal information. Ditto someone who claims to be a soldier. There are an increasing number of scams in which con artists take photos of soldiers from social networking sites and then pretend to be trustworthy members of the military. If someone sends you a photo in an attachment and you open it, you may have unwittingly allowed a virus to infect your computer.
Jody Buell, a peer counselor with romancescams. Your suitor is at the airport on his way to visit you, but his credit card has been declined. Dial up your date ASAP. According to Bernstein, someone who sounds plausible online may be an obvious fraud on the phone. Check sites such as pigbusters. If he has conned others, he may show up there. Report any suspicious behavior or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, says Grey. Never, ever wire money to a stranger.