In May of this year, a Los Gatos woman saw a man’s profile on the premier Jewish singles community online dating site, JDate.com and contacted him.
An Internet dating relationship ensued, according to Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police and during the next few months they had online and telephone conversations, but never met in person.
In June, however, the man asked the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, for money to help him pay fees for a business venture in China.
She agreed and wired $10,000 to a bank in China. Later in June, throughout July and into August, the suspect made six more requests for financial help with his business, said Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Sgt. spokesman Kerry Harris.
The man claimed that when his business was concluded, he would meet and be with the woman.
Each time the woman wired money to banks in China with fund transfers totaling $202,000, according to Harris.
In August, when the suspect asked for an additional $83,000, the woman became suspicious and declined to send the money, Harris said.
Now police are investigating the case and calling it an Internet dating scam.
Typically, in fraud cases like this, the money was most likely transferred almost immediately from the original bank in China to another bank, probably in another country, making the recovery of funds nearly impossible, Harris said.
In some areas of the world, “boiler room” operations of criminal scammers work full-time on computers and telephones, preying on people’s innocence and trust, and stealing millions of dollars every year, he added.
Harris offered the following safety tips for Internet dating:
- Don’t pursue a long-distance relationship with a stranger online. Most scammers target victims outside their areas to avoid being caught or prosecuted.
- Never reveal personal data to someone until you meet face-to-face and develop a level of trust. While it’s tempting to share every detail of your life with a person you think you could be in love with, that’s exactly what the scammer is counting on.
- Pay attention to language. Many overseas scammers do not have a good command of the English language, so should be considered a “red flag”
- Use search engines to check out suitors. Cut and paste an e-mail from the online date into Google. The person’s name or message wording may come up on one of the several websites devoted to romance scams.
- 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.
- Be suspicious of 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. They’ll ask potential dates for money to buy special papers they claim are needed to come home or talk to family.
- Don’t open attachments from a stranger. If someone sends you a photo in an attachment and you open it, you may have unwittingly allowed a virus to infect your computer.
- Don’t fall for a sob story. Many scammers claim to have lost a spouse, child, or parent in an accident or say they have a relative who is very ill. Another common ploy, is that your suitor is at the airport on his way to visit you, but his credit card has been declined.
- Talk to your date by telephone as soon as possible. Someone who sounds plausible online may be an obvious fraud on the phone.
- Check online sites dedicated to dating and romance scams. If your date has conned others, he may show up there.
- Report any suspicious behavior or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission or to your local police department.
- Never wire money to a stranger. Never.