To protect my identity, I am going to call myself Bonnie.
To give you some history, I was in a relationship that broke up and I was devastated. I thought online dating would be fun, kind of a rebound relationship without an actual person. It seemed safe enough. I posted a profile on DateHookup and another one on Plenty of Fish. Both of these dating sites have free messaging between all of the profiles. Finding free online dating attracted me. I am not new to the online dating experience and have had one very excellent relationship and one horrible one. I have been on and off internet dating for the past eight years.
Within the first week I was getting between five and seven contacts from men on a daily basis. Most of these contacts were through the DateHookup site. I thought, “What a great profile I wrote.” I was happy I was getting a lot of attention and, best of all, that I was distracted from the hurt of my broken relationship. About 90% of the men contacting me wanted to go right to emails and Yahoo Messenger. I gave them my email address. The address that I gave them was my spam and garbage email. I made sure that my Yahoo Messenger was set up and available.
Before I started talking to any of them I wiped all the contacts from my contact list — just to make sure. Then I started seeing a pattern, from one man to the next man to the next. They all wanted to get right to email or, preferably, Yahoo Messenger.
They all started with endearing phrases and words. Most had a little tragedy to talk about. All of them were currently unavailable due to vacations (to Florida was most common) or a business trip that would keep them very busy for three weeks or more. Quickly I learned to ask if they were local and available or planning a vacation soon.
Several of the men told me they are in the military and on a peace mission in Kuwait or Afghanistan and that they are retiring soon and want to come home to a relationship. Some would want to go right to online sex, which seemed extremely funny. I was thinking this had to be a joke. These men are pretty good at expressing what they’re doing and what they want you to do, and they included all of the ohhhs and aughs in the appropriate places. I would block them from contacting me.
In hindsight I realized that the online sex was part of the scam to lure lonesome women to some type of online intimacy. It is their way of trying to develop some bond between them and the women that they are talking to.
These men would have profiles from towns that are relatively close, showing residences in areas like Sacramento, Vallejo, Sonoma County, Lake County, San Francisco, etc. I also got the occasional one from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and really any place in the state. I would talk to them, they would do the same things and so I started blocking and reporting the profiles.
About one week later the DateHookup site put out a home page alert saying that their content/system was compromised and that everybody needed to change their password. I thought “yay” for DateHookup but I also deleted my profile. I want to add that Plenty of Fish seems to have fewer of these scammers but they are on there also.
Prior to deleting my profile I was talking to this one man named Paul Wesley who hadn’t yet done the basic pattern that I explained before. I continued to talk with him. His profile said that he was in Sacramento and was self-employed. Nice looking man according to his profile and of course on Yahoo Messenger. Fifty, clean cut, nice face, big smile waving a hand in the direction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Now the self-employed part was new and different. All of the other men that were scammers were “engineers” of one type or another. They must all go to a scammer training facility and learn to use the same tactics, some of the same profile information and say “engineer” is their occupation. They all make a lot of money, which they don’t hesitate listing on their profile. If you made a lot of money, would you post it so that the money chasing people can find you? I think not.
I was really liking the conversation that I was having with Paul until he told me he was leaving the States and going to Nigeria for work. He said that he was an engineer and working in the construction trade in Nigeria. He had some contacts and construction projects that needed to be finished over there. He said that he would be back in seven weeks. At this point I knew that he was another scammer, but I was curious as to what they are after from me. I had been so grossed out or irritated previously that I never got the answer as to why, so I decided to just stick with one until the scam was presented and just watch how it played out.
So I talked with Paul for about a couple of weeks. In the meantime I looked on the internet for any evidence of his name, business, anything to verify that he was not a scammer. I found nothing and I told Paul this, and he said, “You are just looking in the wrong places.” I found it very amusing that Paul Wesley is a music singer and quite famous, so that made it hard to weed past the real Paul Wesley to look for another Paul Wesley.
I shared some photos with Paul but nothing that was very private or personal. Paul sent me a second photo that was different than the one on his profile and also some construction photos that were pretty generic. (I am providing his photo in hopes that the real Paul Wesley — or the real person in the photo — will come forward.)
I told him about being troubled about money and then the scam came. He wanted to send me money via Western Union in the amount of $3,000. He said that when he needed money that he would want it back right away, but in the meantime I could spend some of it. I told him no and later apologized to him about being “scared.” We talked for another week and he tried again, this time raising the amount to $5,000. Again I said no and then he would not talk with me anymore.
I understand the scam might be to send me a small amount of money and then when he wants it he will ask for a check or something from another account with information involved so that the is able to get enough financial information to clean my account out. I am not really sure how this might have played out. I told him toward the end that he should not trust people that he does not know because maybe they will just take his money and he will lose.
I was enjoying the game of it but I am glad that it is over. I do think I have a learned a lot from the experience and that will help me protect myself in the future.
I actually went into the Plenty of Fish site and posted a fake profile in about 15 minutes. It’s quick, easy and everything that you need is on the web: photos, people’s names, and other information. All you need is an email account, which we all know can be done in just minutes. I deleted the account in one day but in the meantime I had been contacted by at least seven men looking to meet me.
I think that free dating sites are no longer where you will find my profile. Why spend my time getting let down time after time with men who are either scammers or too cheap to pay $25/month to find a quality person?
The funniest message that I have ever gotten from a scammer was when I asked, so where is “their city.” What I got back was a copy and paste from Wikipedia.
The online dating sites apparently have no security checks. I am not sure what the solution is for the free dating sites but they are just full of people who are trying to lie, steal and cheat people out of something. From my experiences over the past eight years and especially over the past 45 days, I would estimate that eight or nine out of every ten men who I talked to were scammers or looking for something other than a date. Needless to say I am now paying for an online dating site that has a reputation.
So with this I would like to give you some advice:
1. Pay for an online dating service. It is worth the money and the lack of frustration and grief. (Although they are on paying sites also.)
2. Make up some questions about the town they live in. “Can we meet at McDonald’s near the freeway with the playground? I stopped there one time.” Look online for a place and use Google Maps to see the business and then ask them about the place: “I have eaten at — — — , are they still there?”
3. Make sure you get their full name and then check them out, at least on Google. Almost everybody has something on Google from one thing or another.
4. If you can afford it, pay for an online background check, which is not very expensive.
5. Ask them about upcoming vacations or their favorite places to visit. Scammers are normally out of the country, but not always.
6. Keep in mind that the person could be anybody, and may not even be the same sex as the one they tell you.
7. Don’t share any photos that have captions or personal names. They use them to try to obtain your passwords.
8. Don’t ever talk about finances and never take or give any money. It is okay once you are married, and not before.
9. Spokeo has a website for searching people that is like a directory for email addresses. You can enter their email address and get the number of websites that their email has been on. This is not 100% accurate, so keep that in mind.
10. A scammer will try to get your email address and ask for communication via Yahoo Messenger very early in the communication. This will alert you to possible scamming.
11. You can get right to setting up a date because a scammer will put it off and won’t be available due to whatever. (Not the best idea.)
12. Watch out for any person who will immediately start calling you names of endearment, e.g., lover, sweetie, baby or the like. They are trying to be as charming as they can, as fast as possible, so they can win your trust and rip you off. They will say meeting you is fate/destiny.
13. This goes for both men and women — both can get scammed.
14. Watch out for widows/widowers and personal tragedy stories.
15. Watch out for spelling or grammatical errors. Things like Mum for Mom or %75 instead of 75%.
I would like you all to know that there are really and truly good people on online dating sites. I just recently met a really great man. Just be careful, be vigilant, and say no when it seems strange. Good luck on your searches. If you have any questions or comments you can direct them to the editor of this newspaper.