The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued online dating service Match Group, Inc. which owns and operates not just Match.com, but also Tinder, OK Cupid, PlentyOfFish and other dating sites.  While the FTC alleges a wide variety of improper actions by Match, the one that caught my attention was the allegation that Match.com allows users to create a free Match.com profile, but prohibits users from responding to messages without upgrading their membership to a paid subscription.  According to the FTC when nonsubscribers with free accounts at Match.com received likes, emails or instant messages, they would then receive emailed ads from Match urging them to purchase a paid subscription to Match.com in order to see the message and who sent it.  The big problem with this, however, is that according to the FTC, millions of the contacts that generate Match.com’s “You caught his eye” notices came from accounts that Match had already determined were likely to be fraudulent accounts of scammers seeking to perpetrate romance scams, phishing scams and extortion scams.  Between 2013 and 2016, more than half of the instant messages and favorites that Match customers received came from accounts that Match already had identified as being fraudulent.

Romance scams where a scammer quickly pretends to be in love with the intended victim of the scam and then asks for money under the pretense of a wide variety of emergencies  have become the FTC’s most reported scam with Americans losing 143 million dollars to these scams last year according to the FTC and this figure is probably lower than the true figure.  Often these scams are done through online dating sites such as Match.com

TIPS

There are various red flags to help you identify romance scams.  I describe many of them in detail in my book “The Truth About Avoiding Scams.” The most important thing to remember is to always be skeptical of anyone who falls in love with you quickly online without ever meeting you and early into the relationship who then asks you to wire money to assist them with a wide range of phony emergencies.

Here are a few other things to look for to help identify an online romance scam.  Often their profile picture is stolen from a modeling website on the Internet.  If the picture looks too professional and the person looks too much like a model, you should be wary. You also can check on the legitimacy of photographs by seeing if they have been used elsewhere by doing a reverse image search using Google or websites such as tineye.com.  Particular phrases, such as “Remember the distance or color does not matter, but love matters a lot in life” is a phrase that turns up in many romance scam emails.  Also be on the lookout for bad spelling and grammar as many of the romance scammers claim to be Americans, but are actually foreigners lying about where they are and who they are.  Of course you should be particularly concerned if someone falls in love with you almost immediately.  Often they will ask you to use a webcam, but will not use one themselves.  This is another red flag.  One thing you may want to do is ask them to take a picture of themselves holding up a sign with their name on it.  In addition, ask for a number of pictures because generally when the scammers are stealing pictures of models from websites, they do not have many photographs. Ask for the picture to be at a particular place that you designate to further test them.  If you meet someone through a dating website, be particularly wary if they ask you to leave the dating service and go “offline.”

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