More criminals using online dating to target victims

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by Shern-Min Chow / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on August 4, 2011 at 10:12 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 5 at 10:42 AM

HOUSTON – More and more people are meeting their significant others online, according to recent studies. According to studies, one in six new marriages begin online.

 

But while online dating may be a relatively new way for people to meet, it’s also become a target for criminals.

In April, federal agents issued a warning about online romance scams, which can cost victims money, safety and even their lives.

Amy Deutsch is single mother.  In January of 2011, she thought she’d found “Mr. Right” on Match.com. She said his photo showed a “good looking, tall, dark and handsome” man.

He even sent her another photo of a man and woman. He said it was him and his mother.

“James” lived in Dallas and had the perfect profile, Deutsch said. He was very smooth and he emailed and called every day.

“Valentine’s Day arrived, so did a dozen roses, so did a teddy bear, so did a card and so did electronic cards,” Deutsch said.

They decided to meet in Dallas.

But just before they were going to see each other, James called.

“Oh I just got a contract in Saudi Arabia,” Deutsch remembers him saying.

A week after that, he called claiming disaster struck. He said his car had accidentally hit a 5-year-old girl.

Amy recalls his plea.

“She’s in the hospital. They took my passport. I can’t come back to meet you unless I have money to clear this problem up.”

He asked for $5,000. Luckily a friend intervened and told Deutsch it sounded like a scammer.

Deutsch tried to reach James at the hotel he had mentioned, but he was not registered there.  She called his cell phone and cut off contact with him.

“It’s a new way to socially engineer victims into giving you money,” said John Brewer,  a chief prosecutor for white collar crimes in Harris County.

Brewer said the Internet allows one con to multi-task “to have hundreds or thousands of victims.”

But some romance scam victims are fighting back.  Websites have thousands of postings of such cons, complete with profiles of phony Romeos.  Men are also targets, including a friend of Deutsch’s.

“He actually, I think, paid her electric bill, which I think was multiple hundreds of dollars,” she said.

As for James, he was using the same phone number he used to contact Deutsch. Other women had posted his profile as a warning.

KHOU 11 News tried to call and email James, but his phones were either out of order, or he did not respond.

Deutsch, who is a cancer nurse, has three degrees: a bachelor’s, a masters and a doctorate.

She is smart and busy, so online dating seemed easy.

“Just like in the traditional fraud scams, the more convenient it is, the less secure it is,” said Brewer.

Money can be the least of it.  In other cases, victims send compromising photos only to be blackmailed later. Others meet their internet “love” and are kidnapped, held for ransom. 

“Don’t give money to people you don’t know over the Internet,” advised Brewer.

If you have been a victim of online fraud, you can file a complaint here.

Click here for safety tips when meeting someone online.

 

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