Kathryn's Blog: Scams and Scam Protection

DNA Matching to find your True Love?  Sounds bogus to me…

This sounds SO ridiculous to me: Getting matched based on your DNA?  Come on,now, folks.  What does your DNA have to do with love and attraction and long-term relationships?  Don’t get sucked into this one. 

From the Washington Post:

Ok, We Have Our First DNA-Based Dating Service: GenePartner

Tuesday, July 22, 2008; 1:48 AM

It was only a matter of time before someone launched a dating site that looks for potential matches based on DNA compatibility. That time is apparently today with the launch of GenePartner (ok, it’s not the first, but it’s the cheapest).

The Switzerland-based company says they can use a $199 DNA test (compare to $1,000 for 23andMe) to help you find your perfect match, statistically speaking. They’ve analyzed “hundreds of couples” and have determined the genetic patterns found in successful relationships. Based on their algorithm and your DNA, they’ll determine the probability for a satisfying and long-lasting relationship between two people (color me skeptical).

What about romance? Chemistry? That certain je ne sais quoi when you meet someone and get a tingling sensation in your stomach? Forget it. The future of dating is DNA tests and buccal swabs, so get used to it:

A brush for collecting your DNA sample from your saliva ? called a buccal swab kit ? will be sent to your address. Following the simple instructions included with the kit you will gently collect the DNA from the inside of your cheek. Use the addressed envelope supplied for returning the brushes.

GenePartner is looking to partner with dating sites and have those services encourage users to see if they’re a DNA match.

Will they be able to avoid tough emerging U.S. laws around genetic testing? Well, they’re in Switzerland. My guess is they’re not going to be too worried about California and other state laws prohibiting their service.

From the Roanoke Times:

What your DNA can (and can’t) tell you about you

Mehmet and Mike are happily married. No, not to each other. To two wonderful ladies (one each, of course). But if they weren’t and they lived, say, near Boston, a peculiar dating service might arouse their curiosity.

For $1,995.95, a company called ScientificMatch.-com claims that if you crack open its special kit, rub a cotton swab on the insides of your cheeks and ship the swab to its lab, that the company will use the DNA it collects to find your soul mate.

The company examines the genes that relate to your immune system—technically, the genes in your major histocompatibility complex—to match you with another member of the dating service who has a very different MHC makeup.

Studies suggest that people are more likely to feel that romantic lightning-in-a-bottle called “chemistry” when they have genetically dissimilar immune systems. (One theory suggests that blending diverse genes gives children stronger immune systems, so it’s an evolutionary advantage.)

This matchmaking venture is just one of dozens of consumer-based genetic testing services that have popped up in recent years. Many others promise to look into your DNA and tell you whether you’re susceptible to certain medical disorders. For about $1,000 and up (not covered by health insurance), services such as 23andMe, Navigenics, Genelex, deCODE Genetics and others will scan your DNA for gene markers linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, certain cancers and more. Other tests claim to identify nutritional deficiencies and then provide diet advice.

Beyond these pricey services, many over-the-counter DNA test kits are now sold in drugstores for as little as $30. Send in your swab and, for an additional $200 and up, they’ll test your DNA for markers of lupus, sickle cell anemia, depression, glaucoma, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, high blood iron ... the list goes on.

Are they legitimate? In the case of romantic bliss, we have seen the studies linking diverse MHC with sexual attraction in animals and humans.

But we also know that these limited studies—like nearly all research involving genetic testing—probably reveal only a tiny part of a complex process that nobody truly understands yet. So we’d take any advice from ScientificMatch.com (or any other personal DNA-mapping or -matching service) with a grain of salt the size of a Volkswagen.

Gene testing is an amazing tool. Mapping the human genome has yielded powerful new weapons against cancers of the breast, ovaries, colon, prostate and others.

In fact, we have colleagues who refer people for testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 breast-cancer genes every week. For adopted children, gene testing may be the only way to acquire valuable medical information. These tests are conducted by certified laboratories and interpreted by physicians who can help patients decipher and use the findings.

Also, while research has identified genes that contribute to about 1,400 diseases or disorders, so far most of these provide only preliminary clues. And with certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, genetic mutations don’t always mean you’ll get a disease. So you really need a counselor help you interpret the results.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the quality of the counseling you get after using one of these consumer DNA tests. These kits could give you helpful information, or leave you feeling falsely safe or needlessly scared. Before trying one, start with these steps:

n Thoroughly discuss your family medical history with your doctor, going back to your grandparents. This can yield vital information. Counselors should ask for this history; if they don’t, you need a different laboratory and counselor.

n If you decide to go ahead, be sure that the company keeps your test results confidential. A recent federal law prohibits job or health insurance discrimination based on genetic tests, but we’re still in uncharted legal territory.

n Review the test results with your doctor or a certified genetic counselor (ask your doc for a referral), not just a rep from the testing company, especially before buying pricey supplements or additional services.

Comment on posting on OnlinePersonalsWatch:

When you take a healthy objective and critical look at these claims of “chemistry” related to DNA matching, one quickly realizes that there’s nothing substantive there to back them up. In fact, some companies have no grasp of the very research they tout to justify their methods.

However, my team has volunteered pro bono to conduct a real-world test of at least one company’s claims. The double-blind experiment would then be submitted for academic publication. It’s disappointing, but not that surprising, that this particular company desperately avoided this offer.

Interested reporters are encouraged to contact me for full details.

As an industry insider and respected compatibility researcher, my professional opinion is that consumers should stay away from DNA dating (and save money on these costly services) until real-world validation studies on their services prove they actually predict relationship quality.


James Houran, Ph.D.


More on scamming and how to protect yourself

As far as I am concerned, I can never warn you too much about scamming.  You have to pay attention when you are dating, online or otherwise.  It is all too easy to let what you want to happen get in the way of what actually is going on.  Here’s an article from ConsumerAffairs.com that says it all again, with some good guidelines that I have put in bold.

Love’s Labors Looted: Internet Dating Scams Can Get Expensive
Organized crime preys on the lonely; sites don’t check backgrounds

By Joseph S. Enoch

July 28, 2008

Like so many others who go looking for love on Internet dating sites, Annette was lonely.

She thought she had found the answer to her loneliness when in early March, Eharmony.com matched her with John, a fair-skinned 41-year-old Christian building engineer from California.

The only problem was that he was working on a project in Nigeria, but would be back in the U.S. soon with his daughter, Hailey.

John was everything a lonely woman could want. He was attentive, sent lots of text messages and e-cards and even called Annette’s cell phone. He even said he was a millionaire.

Everything was fine until John said the customs agents at the airport in Nigeria confiscated his luggage for a week containing his $45,000 in travelers’ checks, he told Annette. He just needed $1,300 to get him and his daughter by for a week. Annette didn’t think twice about helping the man of her dreams.

But John’s situation worsened by the day after that. His luggage was stolen, his daughter was kidnapped, they were ambushed by thugs and by the end of it all in June, Annette had wiped out her life savings by wiring $36,300 – not to mention $733 in wire transfer fees—to Nigeria.

John kept pushing until she had nothing left to give, said Annette’s brother, Warren, who spoke on the condition that he and his sister’s full identities would not be published for fear of shaming their family. Warren spoke for Annette because she was too embarrassed to be interviewed by ConsumerAffairs.com over the phone.

In saved chats Annette provided, John wooed her by calling her cutesy names and making promises of a life together. Despite his terrible grammar and her hesitancy later in their relationship, she still gave him everything he wanted.

“Honey,i just wanted you to know the sitaution here is getting worse and i’ve negotiated with the man that brought me back to Africa,” John wrote. “He said i should bring the sum of $2600 before i would be able to sign the document belonging to my house. ... Honey i know i’m causing you alot of stress but i want to promise you this problem i’m facing here will end in time. ... I want to spend the rest of my life with you and Hailey.”

He repeatedly promised he would pay her back in full with interest.

John made repeated comments about “God” and “going to church.”
God will provide

“I believe the almighty God will see both of us through,” he wrote.

When she balked at his requests, John would say, “If you don’t give me the money, it means you don’t love me,” Warren said.

Although Annette’s case may be the most extreme, it’s not the first. ConsumerAffairs.com has received at least 20 complaints from consumers who fell or nearly fell for scammers they met on online dating sites.

“I met someone whom I thought was special and he turned out to be a con artist from Nigeria who asked me for $300,” Minerva of Long Beach, Calif. wrote. That was not an isolated incidence. “These predators contacted me about eight different times on Match.com, but I learned from the first one.”

In October 2006 ConsumerAffairs.com published the story of Eduard of Mantua, N.J. who wired $13,000 to a woman in France he met online.

Mark Brooks, editor of the Internet dating publication, OnlinePersonalsWatch.com and a consultant for the industry, said every dating Web site has problems with scammers from all over the world.

“This is organized crime,” Brooks said. “This is not necessarily individuals out there. They are targeting lots of different industries, but idating is one of them. They have it down to a science – knowing what threshold people will take.”
Organized crime

Many of these scammers work together to create enormous fraud rings and share data on how best to scam people, said Scott Olson, vice president of marketing for iovation, a company that tracks computers so that Web sites can block devices that have a history of being connected with fraud.

“We’ve seen fraud rings that have hundreds of accounts per device that they basically are repeating their scams over and over again with many different people,” Olson said. “These are organized fraud rings that do this as a big business. They have a formula very much like telemarketing where they have a script.”

Brooks said he has spoken with many consumers who have been the victim of fraud on Internet dating sites.

“You look at these cases and you think ‘how could anybody be daft enough to part with so much money?’ But one only needs to talk to these victims one on one to realize that these are vulnerable people and these people open up their hearts and minds to meeting new people and trusting Internet dating sites with these very precious things,” Brooks said.

Scammers sometimes take several months to develop relationships before they start asking for money, Brooks said.

“They’re very good at pulling on the heartstrings,” Brooks said. “They want to get as much emotional connection with their victim as quickly as possible so they can convert them to whatever scam they want to. The main thing is that they want to open up the wallet as soon as possible and as soon as they have the wallet open for any amount ... then they know they can extend that and they can keep upping the ante.”

Besides Nigeria, Brooks said Russia is also on the cutting edge of online date site fraud.

“The males tend to fall for the picture of the beautiful Russian woman and they get to the stage that they want to fly her into the country, she can’t buy a ticket on her side ... so he’ll spring a thousand plus dollars to fly her from Russia, (he waits) at the airport and no one shows up,” Brooks said. “That’s a very common scam.”

Eharmony.com’s vice president of marketing, Fiona Posell, said the company is not responsible for any money its consumers lose to scammers that Eharmony.com matches them up with.

“We are very clear with our users, but ultimately it’s their responsibility and with many things, finding a relationship is an emotional experience and judgment can be clouded and that’s why we tell them to follow the guidelines we give them,” Possell said.

According to Eharmony.com’s Web site, customers should avoid those who:

• Ask for money
• Ask inappropriate questions
• Want to speed up the pace beyond the user’s comfort level
• Tell stories with inconsistencies, some which may sound grandiose
• Give vague answers to specific questions
• Urge consumers to compromise their principles
• Constantly blame others for troubles in his or her life
• Insist on getting overly close, overly fast
• Ask for the user’s login or password information

Eharmony.com relies on its network of 20 million users to turn in those who break the rules so representatives can remove them, Posell said.

In the case of “John,” Eharmony.com discovered he was using a stolen credit card 15 days after he signed up and notified Annette three days later on March 14, three days before she wired John the first loan of $1,300, Posell wrote in an e-mail.

“This is a very unfortunate, very unusual case and we feel really bad about it,” Posell said.
No background checks

Eharmony.com clearly states on its Web site that it does not perform background checks.

“There is no way to do that with complete certainty that it can be done in a way that wouldn’t convey to our users some sort of safety net that we can’t provide,” Posell said. “It’s very hard to perform a background check on an individual to the extent that you would want to. We are very clear that we don’t do that.”

Some Web sites do offer background checks, but Brooks agreed with Posell that most background checks would be costly with little increase in safety.

“They inspire a false sense of security, they don’t really work that well and they kind of cost a lot,” Brooks said.

A very basic background check costs about $10, Brooks said but warned that most scammers would still be able to get around that layer of security.

“If you did a real background check that actually did sophisticated phone verification and friend verification and other things like that, it would be so cost prohibitive the industry couldn’t even exist,” Brooks said.

Everyone ConsumerAffairs.com interviewed for this story said consumers should never give any money to anyone they meet online and that’s why Warren said he doesn’t completely blame Eharmony.com for what happened to Annette.

“Ultimately, it’s my sister’s fault,” Warren said. “I believe people should take personal responsibility. Maybe (Eharmony.com) was a bit too lax, but at the end of the day, we should all be grown ups. ... We should be smart enough, mature enough and wise enough not to fall for these things.”


Get smart and protect yourself from scams

Now, if the following piece isn’t enough to put you off those millionaire sites, I don’t know what is.  This guy was able to swindle eight women by posing as a music mogul.  It seems pretty clear that these women assumed that the guy was telling the truth.  Likely, that he had presented himself as rich and that these women were looking for rich (since both were listed on MillionaireMatch) blinded these ladies.  The guy was HOMELESS.  They sent the money to his ex-wife’s address!  A simple background search would have alerted a wise single. 

I’m working all the time to help singles avoid being scammed.  Take a look at my One Page $1 Wonders ...  Not only will you be better able to protect yourself with my concise, digestible reports on scamming, but also, you get a 25% discount from my favorite background checking source, AssetSearchPros.com

Homeless man gets more than $100,000 from online conquests
By Sofia Diogo Mateus
Last updated: 1:17 PM BST 05/06/2008
A homeless man posing as a millionaire was arrested for scamming 13 women for more than $100,000.

Through the website MillionaireMatch.com, Paul Kruger, 50, met and convinced eight women that he was a Grammy-nominated music mogul who had worked with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, amongst others.

He met the other five alleged victims through one of the women he met on the website.

Later he said needed money for a CD and DVD manufacturing investment, for which the women sent him a total $102,000.

One of the victims was even shown a false stock reports, the court heard, since the operation apparently involved group investment in stock options.

“He did have a good story,” said one victim, a sales manager in Costa Mesa, Calif., who records show gave him $10,000.

The website, which describes itself as the “number one dating site for succesful singles and admirers”, is free and unregulated and anyone can join and claim to be a millionaire, simply by saying that they win $150,000 or more annually.

Steve Kasper, the marketing vice president of Successfulmatch.com, the parent company of MillionaireMatch.com, both bases in Toronto, said it was up to users to self-police.

“We do tell all of our members on all of our sites that you have to take precautions when you’re on the Internet and looking at people that you’re going to meet,” he said.

Charges were filed in Souderton, Pennsylvania, because that is where he told women to send him money; it is also the address of the home of his ex-wife, authorities said.

The money was used to fuel his gambling addiction, since he had various VIP casino accounts, authorities said.

Mr Krueger declined to comment to reporters as he was arraigned on charges of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, deceptive or fraudulent business practices and Pennsylvania Securities Act violations.

The Californian woman said she was willing to be a witness but that the experience had not put her off online dating.

“You have to be careful whereever you go,” said the woman, who is in her 30s. “You could get scammed meeting someone at a bar. It doesn’t matter. You just have to do your due diligence, and I didn’t.”


Deals on keeping yourself safe

Anyone who reads my blog or newsletter *eMAIL to eMATE* knows that I am constantly harping about safety.  While I don’t think scamming is as much of a problem as most folks think, still, you are the only one who can protect you.  Being educated is the first line of defense. Reading what I have posted here on this blog is a great place to start your education.  I’ve also started developing products to help you get informed, the distilled, “nitty-gritty” about scamming (and lying!) in cheap ($1 each) easy to digest bites: My One Page $1 Wonders.

I’ve also located a great resource for singles concerned about their safety:  AssetSearchPros.com Asset Search Pros has offered an excellent deal for my Find-a-Sweetheart readers and clients: A big 25% discount on all their search packages!  Yea!  We like deals! 

To get you to make yourself just that much safer, all you have to do to take advantage of AssetSearchPros.com’s offer is to buy one or more of my One Page $1 Wonders. After your purchase, you’ll get a followup email with a promotional code that you will use on the AssetSearchPros.com’s site for your selections there.  Is that a deal or what?

AssetSearchPros sent me the following description about background searches that will help you figure out if they are something you can use.  You might want to think about having a search done on yourself.  After all, someone you are dating could easily do a search on YOU.  Shouldn’t you be aware of what might come up?

The Value of a Dating Background Check

Online dating is the fastest growing method for singles who are looking for compatible partners. Whether a person is in their 20’s and just looking for someone to “hang out with” or is older and seeks a “serious relationship”, online dating is the preferred method of millions of people.

Companies such as Match.com, eHarmony, and PlentyofFish provide information on millions of profiles, and sustain business by enrolling hundreds of thousands of new members every year. While it is exciting to find someone whose profile appears compatible with yours, remember that all information is provided by the member themselves. Each member understandably portrays themselves in the best light. Who hasn’t wanted to shave a few pounds of extra weight off of their waistline or deduct a year or two from their actual age? Doesn’t every 41 year old have a better chance of meeting “Mr. Right” when they say that they are 39?

While it is never a good idea to lie when you are looking to build a long-term, trusting relationship, some convenient fudging might be excusable, like height and weight.  But perverts, predators, rapists and murders have equal access to computers and dating sites. While online dating is “safe” and impersonal while you are behind a computer and emailing someone, there comes the time when you actually meet your online partner. How do you know that they are in reality who they claim to be?

A Dating Background Check is an inexpensive method to verify information that you have received. While it can seem minor that someone tries to cover over a few gray hairs or denies owning a herd of cats, information regarding current marital status, financial and legal problems are important, and will be revealed by having a Background Check from a service provider such as Asset Search Pros.

Here are some frequently asked questions and recommendations from our clients.

Q: I just met my date for the first time. We had a cup of coffee. When we discussed jobs and families, he told me that he had just moved to the area and didn’t really know anyone. How do I know he was telling me the truth?

A: We would recommend our Bronze Peace of Mind background check package. It is priced at less than $20 and will verify the name, and possible aliases, as well as current and previous addresses.

Q: I am in my fifties and am just starting to try to meet someone after my spouse died. What kind of things should I be wary of?

A: You need to be protect your personal finances. You may be self-sufficient in the area of money, but in today’s society, many people have had financial reversals. Some of these people are victims and some are guilty of fraud. You don’t want yourself and your children to lose everything to someone who has bankruptcies or court ordered judgments against them. If you should get married, remember, you could become liable for their debts. We recommend our Silver Peace of Mind background check for only $39. It is a small price to pay to discover any public information financial records including bankruptcies, tax liens and property ownership. This package also includes the name and address information provided in the Bronze package.

Q: I am a single mom with two teenage daughters. I just met the most wonderful man. He told me he has children, but doesn’t have much contact with them. How can I know that he is on the up and up?

A: Although it is exciting to meet someone, our children’s safety must be our major priority. Asset Search Pros has access to nationwide criminal databases. We specialize in obtaining names of convicted sex offenders. Our Golden Peace of Mind background check is available for $59 and includes searches for criminals and sex offenders. The package also includes the financials and other information provided in the Bronze and Silver packages.

Q: The person that I have been dating says he has never been married before. He always avoids looking me in the eyes when he talks about his past.  He makes good money, but never seems to pay for his share of the expenses on our dates. Things just seem fishy. Any recommendations?

A: Many of us have things in our past that we are not proud of and are reluctant to reveal. Still, it is better to learn as much as you can about someone before a major surprise comes at you unexpectedly. There could be financial problems or a past criminal conviction. He could have been married before and the reason he is not paying for your dates is the fact that he has court-ordered child support garnishments. There are steps you can take to verify the information he provided. One of the simplest, most economical and accurate methods is to purchase our Platinum Peace of Mind dating background check. It is only $89 and will provide information for: Nationwide criminal convictions, sex offender search, previous marriages, maiden name, bankruptcies, tax liens, civil judgments, possible aliases, extensive address history, property ownership and property values, vehicle ownership, professional licenses, and business ownerships.

All of these packages are available by going to http://www.assetsearchpros.com and clicking on the button “Dating Background”. Just click on Dating Background Check packages and you will see the description of each package. There is a convenient shopping cart for your benefit.


Millionaire Scratch?

In Internet dating, the caveat is always “Buyer beware!” and here is another good example of why.  I haven’t the vaguest idea why any millionaire would list on a dating site like MillionaireMatch.com, or why anyone would believe the riches story.  But clearly folks do—believe, I mean.  Remember the other adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Underlines below are mine.

Homeless man gets more than $100,000 from online conquests
By Sofia Diogo Mateus

A homeless man posing as a millionaire was arrested for scamming 13 women for more than $100,000.

Through the website MillionaireMatch.com, Paul Kruger, 50, met and convinced eight women that he was a Grammy-nominated music mogul who had worked with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, amongst others.

He met the other five alleged victims through one of the women he met on the website.

Later he said needed money for a CD and DVD manufacturing investment, for which the women sent him a total $102,000.

One of the victims was even shown a false stock reports, the court heard, since the operation apparently involved group investment in stock options.

“He did have a good story,” said one victim, a sales manager in Costa Mesa, Calif., who records show gave him $10,000.

The website, which describes itself as the “number one dating site for succesful singles and admirers”, is free and unregulated and anyone can join and claim to be a millionaire, simply by saying that they win $150,000 or more annually.

Steve Kasper, the marketing vice president of Successfulmatch.com, the parent company of MillionaireMatch.com, both bases in Toronto, said it was up to users to self-police.

“We do tell all of our members on all of our sites that you have to take precautions when you’re on the Internet and looking at people that you’re going to meet,” he said.

Charges were filed in Souderton, Pennsylvania, because that is where he told women to send him money; it is also the address of the home of his ex-wife, authorities said.

The money was used to fuel his gambling addiction, since he had various VIP casino accounts, authorities said.

Mr Krueger declined to comment to reporters as he was arraigned on charges of theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, deceptive or fraudulent business practices and Pennsylvania Securities Act violations.

The Californian woman said she was willing to be a witness but that the experience had not put her off online dating.

“You have to be careful whereever you go,” said the woman, who is in her 30s. “You could get scammed meeting someone at a bar. It doesn’t matter. You just have to do your due diligence, and I didn’t.”


The United States Emabassy in Russian and Scams

The United States Embassy in Moscow clearly gets frequent reports about US citizens who are victims of Russian based dating scams.  Here’s what the Embassy has put out in response, good advice no matter what country you are dealing with:

Internet Dating Scams

The U.S. Embassy receives reports almost every day of fraud committed against U.S. citizens by Internet correspondents professing love and romantic interest. Typically, the Russian correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or “visa costs.” The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. The U.S. Embassy has received many reports of citizens losing thousands of dollars through such scams. American citizens are advised never to send money to anyone they have not met in person.

The internet dating scams include some common elements:

* Misrepresentation about the costs and requirements of a U.S. visa,
* Claims that they must buy airline tickets only in Russia,
* Use of professional models’ photos gleaned from internet web sites,
* Sudden financial hurdles to leaving Russia,
* Requests to send money only through a specific company,
* A scan of a (usually fraudulent) U.S. visa to prove intent to travel.

Please keep in mind that, while the U.S. Embassy in Moscow does not have the authorization to initiate investigations of these scams, the Fraud Prevention Unit can verify the authenticity of any U.S. visa via e-mail at . In addition, complete and authoritative information on applying for a U.S. visa is available on the Department of State’s webpage on Visa Information for Temporary Visitors.


USPO’s advice to prevent love scams

Even the post office puts out guidelines to help you detect a scam:

Love Losses

Learn the warning signs:

* They say they are located in a foreign country and they have a check or money order in U.S. dollars that they can’t cash. But there’s no real reason why they couldn’t use the financial services in their own country to cash it.
* They claim to have a medical emergency or some other problem and ask you to help by cashing a check or money order.
* They promise to come to the U.S. to be with you, but they need you to cash a check or money order to cover travel expenses.
* Only cash a check or money order for a close relative, someone you have actually met in person or someone you have known for a long period of time. You will be responsible if the check is phony.


Annie’s Mailbox and Nigerian Scams

Once I started writing about scams, I saw it everywhere.  Even in the advice columns.  Here’s a letter in “Annie’s Mailbox” that appeared in our local paper on 4/16.  While it is not about Internet dating scams per se, the writer does describe the oh-so-typical Nigerian scam.  The “Annie’s” writers give some good resources.  I’ve been writing about scamming for all of you singles out there who are looking for love online.  You want to stay safe, and I want to help.  If you are looking for specific answers to you questions about scamming, go take a look at my One Page $1 Wonders.

Dear Annie: In the past month, I have received three e-mails from different people asking me to send a deposit and they will forward a winning lottery ticket to me. In exchange for cashing it for them, I will get a portion of the money. One letter said I had won a contest from Chevron, but the address was from Nigeria.

I know these are scams, but I’m sure there are a few people who might fall for them. What do I do with these e-mails? — Palmdale, Calif.

Dear Palmdale: Report them to the Federal Trade Commission. Most such scams involve people claiming to be Nigerian officials or surviving spouses of former government officials, who very politely offer to give you money if you will help them transfer funds out of the country.
You are then asked to provide your bank account number and some money to cover legal and transaction fees. You may even be encouraged to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete the transaction. Sometimes, the con artists will produce fake money to verify their claims.

According to the State Department, people who have responded have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered. And, of course, there is a stream of excuses why there was never any transfer of funds to your account.

If you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to need your help getting money out of another country, do NOT respond. Forward it to the FTC at . If you have lost money to one of these schemes, call your local Secret Service field office (listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory). To file a complaint or get information, visit ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-).


Could you be scammed?

What kind of people are most vulnerable to Internet dating scams? 

According to Alan Prince, who writes a blog on internet dating scams:

1. Elderly people and other lonely groups: Elderly women and men looking for companionship are believed to be especially vulnerable to the romance scams.They are believed to be soft at heart,and willing to part with their money in return for romantic affection and attention. Other lonely groups of people are also a prime target. Their loneliness makes them to be in need of some form of company,which may not be readily available around them in their immediate environment and which the scammers readily provide.

2.Separated women,recently divorced women and the like are easy targets of the scammers. The trauma of their divorce or separation makes them vulnerable to internet love scams. The scammers hunt on various dating sites for women like these,often sifting through thousands of profiles in the process.

3.Overweight people:these set of people are about the easiest to target and to scam,according to the scammers. It appears some overweight people need someone to admire them and to love them the way they are. And it also appears that a number of them are insecure emotionally.Maybe as a result of this, some overweight women seem to do anything to hold on to a man,even if they do not know if he is for real. It appears that it is their sense of insecurity and their need for acceptance that is often exploited to get money of them.

4.People Looking For Sex: Many adult websites are a special target of the scammers.The scammers show nude pictures of themselves and pretend to engage in sexual acts with the persons they meet on the site. Usually,the people scammed through adult sites never disclose that they were scammed or they keep their losses to themselves. All who lost money to scams through this means declined to give figures of how much they were scammed of when interviewed.

People living with AIDS, and differently-abled people are also a target of the scams.


Guys get scammed, too…

Men are not immune from being scammed.  Here’s advice from a site call Russian Women Blacklist, with both hints on how to identify a possible scam as well as how to protect yourself:

Avoiding being scammed is, in fact, easy.
The simple rule of thumb is: DO NOT SEND MONEY.
Men who end up being scammed manage to ignore numerous red flags on their way in.

Anyway, here are a few thoughts you might find useful:

• All services on this site, as well as any other reputable dating service, ARE FREE FOR WOMEN. Internet access in Russia is more or less affordable these days to anyone. Quite a few people have computers at home, even more at work. Even if a girl has to use an internet cafe of a kind, the fees there would not be so unbearable, that she has to ask you to sponsor her correspondence if she is interested in corresponding with you.

• Be realistic. Unless you are a rich movie/pop/sports star, it is rather unlikely that a model looking girl will fall deeply in love with you right after your first letter.
This is NOT serious relationship you are looking for

Plots mainly utilized by scammers are not so many

a) A US visa is hard to get, but there is a tourist agency that has connections with the US consulate and the problem can be taken care of for $1000.
No matter how much of your $1000 the ‘tourist agency’ is willing to pay at the consulate/embassy, this just CANNOT be enough to bribe the consul.
Unless you have a senator friend who can personally call the embassy, practically the only way for a single girl to get into the US is by means of FIANCEE VISA you have to apply for. You do not have to marry a girl you invited on a fiancee visa, you can apply for as many visas as you wish later, as long as it is one at a time.

b) After you get the first very promising response from a girl, she disappears for a week, then comes up with a tragic story: father (mother) needs money for urgent heart surgery, or she (her father) has been in a road accident and the mob now wants $$$ in damages or she (her kid sister) is to become a sex slave to a mafia boss, or she has lost her job, or a combination of the above.
The possibility of such a story to be true is very low. Moreover, it is very unlikely that a person has nobody but a resent Internet acquaintance to ask for help when something bad does, in fact, happen. And, on top of that, it very unlikely that a good Russian woman would do so too. Use your discretion.


What does an Internet dating scam look like?

I’m always on the lookout for ways to keep singles safe in their search for love.  Here’s a description of how a typical Internet dating scam works --

From hoax-slayer.com:
Internet Dating Scams
There are a great many quite legitimate dating service websites that allow members to establish online relationships. Often, these online friendships blossom into genuine long-term relationships. An increasing number of people have found life-partners via relationships started online.

Sadly however, scammers have managed to effectively exploit this trend to further their own nefarious ends. Many people around the world have been duped into sending money to Internet fraudsters posing as would-be girlfriends or boyfriends.

A typical Internet dating scam goes like this:

1. A person registers at an online dating service and creates a profile. The profile will include information, and possibly a photograph, of the person along with a way for interested people to make contact.

2. In due course, a scammer contacts the person posing as someone interested in exploring a possible romantic relationship.

3. The victim responds and the pair begins corresponding regularly. They may soon bypass the dating service contact system and start communicating directly, usually via email.

4. Over time, the scammer will slowly earn the trust of the victim. He or she may discuss family, jobs and other details designed to make the correspondent seem like a real person who is genuinely interested in the victim. Photographs may be exchanged. However, the “person” that the victim thinks he or she is corresponding with, is likely to be purely an invention of the scammer. Photographs may not even show the real sender. The victim’s apparent love interest may look completely different to the person in the photograph and, in reality, may not even be the same gender.

5. After the scammer has established the illusion of a genuine and meaningful relationship, he or she will begin asking the victim for money. For example. the scammer may claim that he or she wants to meet in person and ask the victim to send money for an airfare so that a meeting can take place. Or the scammer may claim that there has been a family medical emergency and request financial assistance. The scammer may use a variety of excuses to entice the victim to send funds.

6. If the victim complies and sends money, he or she will probably receive further such requests. With his or her judgement clouded by a burgeoning love for the scammer’s imaginary character, he or she may continue to send money.

7. Finally, the victim will come to realize that he or she has been duped, perhaps after waiting fruitlessly at the airport for a “lover” who, will, of course, never arrive.

8. Meanwhile, the scammer pockets the money and moves on to the next victim. In fact, the scammer may be stringing along several victims simultaneously.

In many cases, the victim will not only have lost out financially, but will also be left broken-hearted and thoroughly disillusioned. These scammers tend to pray on victims that may be especially lonely, shy or isolated and therefore more vulnerable.

There are a number of variations on the same basic scam. In some cases the scammers may be the one to create a profile on a dating site and wait for a potential victim to contact them. Typically, the profile will include a photograph of a very attractive young woman who will have no trouble attracting would-be suitors.

In other cases, the scammers may simply send out random unsolicited emails professing a desire to begin a relationship in the hope that some gullible recipients will favourably respond. Alternatively, they may strike up a conversation with a potential victim via an Internet chat room.

In some variations of the scam, the fraudsters may not ask for money directly. Instead, they may ask their victim to cash money orders or cheques and wire them the proceeds. The money orders or cheques will turn out to be fake or stolen and the victim will be left out of pocket and possibly held responsible for receiving stolen funds. The scammers may also try to trick victims into revealing sensitive information such as credit card numbers.

If you begin corresponding with a person with a view to a possible romantic relationship, remain cautious even if the relationship seems to be progressing very well. These scammers are very skilled at building trust and know how to make vulnerable victims fall in love with them. Regardless of the strength of your feelings towards a correspondent, you should view any requests for money as highly suspicious. If you do suspect a scam, you may be able to find information on a dating blacklist website such as the Russian women dating scam list . These sites publish information and photographs of known dating scammers. Internet dating scammers often used the same names, family details and cover stories in multiple dating scams. Therefore, you may be able to expose a scam by conducting Internet searches on the names used by the scammers or key phrases from their emails.


Have you Googled a date?

I just scanned a long report from Pew Internet & American Life Project which contained the following snippet specific to online daters:

From Pewresearch.com: Digital Footprints: Online Identity Management and Search in the Age of Transparency

9% of online adults say they have searched online for information about someone they are dating or in a relationship with. Perhaps due to safety concerns, online women tend to do their dating homework more than online men.

I frankly think that 9% is an underestimate, from what I have been hearing, especially from the ladies.  Most routinely now Google prospective Internet generated dates.  While the article really deals with managing online information about yourself, it’s worth a read.  Regularly Googling yourself is just plain a good idea.  And be ready to explain what comes up, even if some porn star has the same name as you.  You’ll probably need to prove it somehow.


Scams, scams, and more scams

Michelle Singletary writes an excellent article about the “Sweetheart Swindle” of which all singles need to be aware.  See below, I have underlined parts of the article that I think are particularly relevant.

Online dating scammers will tugat your heartstrings and wallets

By Michelle Singletary

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If you’re looking online for a sweetheart, beware: You may find a new meaning for the expression “money can’t buy love.”

The National Consumers League has issued a warning to people looking for love on the Internet to watch out for con artists whose only mission is to separate them from their cash.

“Scammers lurk in chat rooms and on online dating sites, attempting to earn someone’s affections and trust so that they can persuade him or her to send money,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.

The league, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, is calling such scams the “Sweetheart Swindle.” It’s a simple scheme, really. The con artist spends time nurturing a relationship. The goal of this online courtship, Greenberg said, is to eventually get the victim to repeatedly send cash.

Greenberg said the group’s Fraud Center only began tracking this type of scam last summer. However, it’s become so pervasive that the organization says it has moved into its top 10 list of scams. Last year the average lovesick victim lost more than $3,000, according to complaints logged at the center’s Web site (http://www.fraud.org).

The scams vary but the typical swindler will begin to weave a tale of how he (or she) has gotten into a financial jam, Greenberg said. Feeling sorry for their online lover, the victim eventually sends money.

In one case, a woman gave $35,000 to a man she met on Match.com, who claimed he was from her hometown of Kansas City, Mo. He said he worked as an engineer in Nigeria. For four months the two had long online exchanges, much like you have at the beginning of a courtship. He even sent her flowers and professed his love for her.

Then the man began requesting money to pay for medical care for his 11-year-old son, whom he claimed had a congenital heart condition.

It was all a con. Eventually the woman took out a second mortgage on her home to pay off the credit cards she used to get advances to send him money.

“I’m not a stupid woman,” she told me in an interview. “I have a master’s degree. I hold down a good job.”

But, she said, she felt sorry for the kid. “That was where my heart strings were.”

If you’re inclined to be harsh on these victims, don’t be so smug to think this couldn’t happen to you, Greenberg said.

“Scammers are really good at figuring out and preying on the vulnerabilities of the people they are scamming,” she said.

The Consumers League said if you want to avoid heartache from a sweet-talking swindler, look for these red flags:

* You are being asked for money.

* There is a confession of love soon after you begin communicating.

* The person claims to be a U.S. citizen who is living abroad. Or they pump up their professional credentials.

* The person wants you to help with their business or get involved in a business deal.

Greenberg advises that you give money only to someone you’ve met in person, have known for a long time and can truly trust.

I would suggest that you make it a personal money rule not to give or loan a significant amount of cash to anyone you’re romantically interested in.

If your honey needs money, look at the situation as an opportunity to see how he or she handles a financial crisis. When faced with an unplanned expense, does your Pookey have to resort to borrowing the money?

Step back from your emotions and you will gain some important information about a person you may view as a potential spouse.

I’m not saying never give any money to your boo (that’s the hip way of referring to your romantic companion). Of course, you will trade off paying for dates or transferring a little money between the two of you. But I want to emphasize it should be only a little money.

Whether you are dating in person or online, you should not be paying the person’s rent, car note or any other bill. Don’t give her money to get her hair done. Don’t lend or give him money to fix his car. These are all expenses that your sweetheart should be paying without your help.

And certainly don’t ever borrow money to help out your sweetie, no matter how desperate the situation seems. If they need financial assistance, help them find another resource.

Don’t get a cash advance on your credit card. Don’t take a loan against your 401(k). And for goodness sake, don’t borrow against your home.

Bailing out your boo is not an indication of your love. It’s an indication you’re dating someone who needs to budget or get another job (or a job) or move back home with his or her mama.


Dr. Phil’s Con Man Avoidance Tips

When I was researching the previous blog posting about the con man on Dr. Phil (“Faking it?”), I ran across this article on Phil’s site on how to spot a con man (or con woman).  The tips are so good that I have reprinted them below.  Every single ought to be well-verse in the attributes of a con:

Tips to Keep You Away From a Con Man

Con artists charm their way into a woman’s heart, lie to her, and too often, take her for all she’s worth. Candace Delong, former FBI Profiler and author, shares tips to keep you away from a con man.

Signs You’re Involved with a Con Artist:

* Pressure to get married.
Marriage is far too important in life to be rushed. Be wary of a wedding or proposal out of the blue. If a man makes you believe your marrying him is a matter of life or death — he’s up to something.
* Vague answers to questions about his past.
Always ask questions about your mate’s background or past. If he refuses to answer these questions, be suspicious. If he does answer the questions, and you wonder if he is telling you the truth, look up the information he gives you on the Internet.
* Questionable financial worth.
If a man brags about how much he is worth or claims to be broke because he is paying child support, that can be checked out also. Have him show you income tax records for several years before you merge finances. Always get proof if you aren’t sure. Also, be aware if he is always asking to borrow money.
* Lies about his age.
A man lying about his age is cause for concern. He may try to change the date because the real date of his birth is on a warrant for his arrest somewhere. If he claims that there was a mistake on his birth certificate, or his job made a mistake, he is lying. It’s illegal to change your birth date.
* Multiple social security numbers.
Having more than one social security number is illegal. If a man has more than one, he is using it to scam money or avoid the criminal justice system.  If he claims to be a victim of identity theft, have him show you documentation.

What You Have and Do That Makes You Vulnerable to a Con:

* You have something worth getting.
These types of men are looking for a woman with something they can take. You don’t have to be wealthy or be an heiress to a huge fortune. If you have a job and a little bit of room on your credit card, this may attract him.
* Gullibility.
You have a willingness to believe anything the con artist is telling you. You may think you’re a good judge of character, but these guys are really slick. They start learning how to lie at age 3.
* Believing the grand gesture.
Willingness to interpret questionable behavior as love. For example, a man goes to a woman’s house when she is not there, gets her stuff and puts it in his place. This is not the loving gesture it might appear to be. For one thing, it’s theft. Secondly, it is meant to control her and get her in his world as soon as possible. Also, be wary if he proposes quickly in the relationship.
* Testing boundaries with money.
Usually, this occurs early in the relationship. For example, he may ask you out to dinner and when the check comes say, “Oh, honey, I left my wallet in the car.” Your response should be, “Oh, honey, I left mine at home.”


How to spot a liar, con man, and character disorder

When we got our new satellite tv system, we got a dvd recorder as part of the package, like a Tivo, and boy, do I love it!  Finally, like the answering machine tamed the telephone, the tv is now our servant, rather than it feeling the other way around.

I set it to automatically record various shows like Nova and Nature that we like—and also, Oprah and Dr. Phil.  I don’t watch all of the Oprah and Phil shows, just delete those that have no interest.  And frankly, a lot more of Oprah gets zapped.  Because I fancy that Dr. Phil and I are in the same business and I like to see how he handles things.  Sometimes he is good, a few times, very very good.  Often so-so (I feel good in comparison), sometimes down-right bad.  Then I can’t stand to watch and just zap the whole business.

What I have gotten the most from Dr. Phil has been accidental: I get to watch show after show of people lying and evading the truth, close up.  Sometimes Phil does pretty well at pinning those folks to the wall.  It is impressive. 

If for no other reason than to train yourself to spot liars, watch Phil regularly.  Very cheap and effective training.

The best show I have seen yet for “putting pathology right on the screen” was shown on 12/31/2007.  Probably a pretty dead day for viewers, but I taped it and watched a few days later.  If you want to see a character-disordered con man, super-slick, you have GOT to see this show.  The show is called “Faking it?” There’s a writeup and slide show available online, but if I were you, I’d buy the video for $29 which you can through the website.  It’ll be worth every penny.  The skillfulness of this guy does not come through in the write-up.

Being about to spot character disorders was the most difficult part of mental health diagnosis for me.  (I’m a professional therapist, have been for 30 years.) The short definition that works for me is that “Normal neurotics,” folks like most of us, feel too much responsibility and too much guilt.  Those who are character disordered don’t feel enough responsibility or enough guilt.  The jails are full of character disordered folks: “I didn’t do it.” Higher functioning character disordered folks can do very well in things like politics, even get elected president (or in present case, vice president).

If you can get a copy of this show, just watch Fred slip and slide, or at least try to, while he evades getting pinned down in lies and inconsistencies.  Phil does pretty well keeping up with Fred, but you can tell that Fred simply doesn’t get Phil’s side of the discussion, he is so character disordered and convinced of his view of the world. 

Then, for dramatic contrast, stay tuned for the second guest, Linda.  While Linda too is a con and deeply disturbed, she is not character disordered.  She knows what she does is wrong, feels guilt, and wants to change.  Far different than the way Fred presents.  As crazy as Linda’s behavior is, you can feel some empathy for her. 

Not Fred.  People like Fred make the rest of us feel crazy.  They are master manipulators.  Watch Fred carefully to see how a good one does it.


Scams and How to Report

Hey, I’m always looking for helps for singles looking for love, and unfortunately, that means alerting you to scams and how to report.  Here’s the meat of the matter…

Internet Scam Reporting

Mark Brooks, Online Personals Watch

Users who have been scammed should report the crime to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Statistics on internet scamming are available here.  Of those individuals who reported a dollar loss, the highest median losses were found among Nigerian letter fraud ($5,100), check fraud ($3,744), and other investment fraud ($2,695) complainants


Male Scamming victim

Oooh, I hate seeing these scamming stories.  I’d much rather post tales about happy couples, but alas, not all pairings are.  Thank goodness, by far the most prominent are the successes, but there are folks out to get you, in all areas of life.  In love, just as in every day, you need to keep your guard up and your brain engaged.  This guy did not.

SA man ‘duped’ by internet dating, brother says

Fifty-six-year-old Desmond Gregor from Adelaide travelled to Mali last month to see a woman he met through the internet.

But after arriving, he was held for 12 days by people demanding a $100,000 ransom.

State and Federal Police worked with Mali national police to secure Mr Gregor’s release, by tricking the kidnappers into taking him to the Canadian embassy.

His brother, Phillip Gregor from Hoyleton, north of Adelaide, says Mr Gregor has learned his lesson.

“Definitely it was an internet romance, I guess you would call it, and certainly he was very taken by this and completely tunnel-visioned and couldn’t see the scam behind it,” he said.

“To him [it was] obviously very convincing but as soon as I had seen some of the material that was found at his place, anyone should have seen through it.”

Authorities in Mali want to question three men over Mr Gregor’s kidnap.

Mr Gregor is expected to arrive back home in Australia tomorrow.


Background Checks

More for your resource list on how to check up on potential dates…

Sites help with background check

Question: I am going to try online dating, with some trepidation. Can I use the Internet to check the men I meet online?

Answer: There are many free search options. Start with a general search, such as at Google.com, Yahoo.com or Live.com. Also look at social-networking sites, such as MySpace.com. Go to business sites, like Xing.com, Ecademy.com and Ryze.com. Look for inconsistencies. Court records can be illuminating. Start with the National Center for State Courts (Ncsconline.org). Many pay sites offer endless databases. Beware of “free” offers that are too good to be true. Such research is still specialized. If things are serious enough, consider hiring a private investigator.


Now It’s Background Checks That Are Becoming the Norm

Just a few years ago, googling a prospective date was questionable behavior.  Now it seems standard, and professional background checks are the new frontier.  Check out this article and resources below from Marketwatch.com:

Private I
Last Update: 12:55 PM ET Jun 22, 2007

CHICAGO (MarketWatch)—It’s the modern-day boy-meets-girl story: chatting online turns into chatting on the phone which turns into an in-person date over coffee. But before a relationship has time to blossom, some online daters are taking an extra step to make sure their possible soul mate isn’t hiding anything—including a felony conviction.
In these days of connecting through the Internet, more Americans are turning to background screenings to make sure they’re not getting involved with a bad egg. After all, checking someone out by typing his or her name in a search engine will only reveal so much.
And it’s not only daters who are doing a little digging into the past. Parents are taking a microscope to the records of babysitters and coaches. Housekeepers, too, are getting a closer look before they’re allowed in.
Individuals are even conducting background checks on their own histories, correcting inaccuracies before an employer pulls a report or adding extra assurance to parents before being trusted with their children.
“It’s up to you as the parent, as the consumer, as the citizen to do your homework,” said Robert Siciliano, a personal security consultant and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. While gut instincts are one part of the puzzle when meeting an individual, “anyone who you bring into your personal or professional life, that you’re going to be put in a trusted position” should probably be given a background screening.”
Screening services range in price according to their scope, and companies that offer them online have grown in number over the past few years, Siciliano said. A few of the biggies are Abika, Intelius and MyPublicInfo. Visit Siciliano’s site.
But the industry is still largely unregulated and there isn’t any standardization on how screenings are conducted, Siciliano said, putting the responsibility on consumers to make sure that they know what they’re paying for when they request a report. Plus, due to the unavailability of some criminal records—as well as human error—omissions and inaccuracies can pop up when companies scour national public and private databases.
Even Robert Mather, CEO of MyBackgroundCheck.com, a service that has been in business since 1994, said that mistakes—although perhaps rare—aren’t unheard of. Visit MyBackgroundCheck.com.
“We do close to 10,000 of them (background checks) a day and I would say 99% of them are accurate,” he said. “But still, that’s a lot of inaccurate ones.”
Not just for CEOs anymore
The volume of screenings done by individuals started to take off in 2003 or 2004, said Ed Petersen, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Intelius, a firm that does checks. Visit Intelius.com.
“People really thought that background checks were reserved for the CEO of the company,” he said. But as consumers become more aware that a background check could be conducted for $50 or so more of them began requesting the service, he said.
“Awareness has not only risen, but people buy more than once,” he said, adding that repeat customers investigate the backgrounds of other individuals in their lives. “Our pitch has never been ‘the sky is falling’ ... I think it’s certainly a confirm-your-gut type of thing.”
Some online meeting places are doing the legwork before people ever make a connection.
For example, Sittercity, a Web site that helps parents connect with babysitters, allows sitters to provide the site with information for a background screening. A LexusNexis search is then done on that sitter, and the results are made available to parents looking for a match, said Genevieve Thiers, Sittercity’s founder and CEO, in an e-mail interview. Visit Sittercity.com.
“Trust is what we sell,” Thiers said. “Being able to allow our sitters to run checks on themselves did so much in terms of helping parents to trust finding sitters over the Internet.”
But there’s a caveat: “The only trouble with our system, ironically, is that our checks are ‘too good.’ We search for traffic violations in addition to ID checks, criminal violations and sexual abuse, and we have some excellent sitters that have one small mark on their record due to running a red light, or something similar,” she said. “Our site is quarantining them, and that’s not necessarily what we want.”
The online dating site True.com also is known for doing criminal and marriage checks on applicants; the site goes after those who misrepresent themselves, sometimes taking legal action, said Herb Vest, True.com’s CEO. Visit True.com.
“We reject about 5% of the applicants because they are married or criminals,” he said.
A warning on the site reads: “We can’t guarantee that criminals can’t get on our site, but we can guarantee that they’ll be sorry they did.”
The layer of security is what draws many to the site, Vest said. And it’s not surprising: According to a report released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project last year, most Internet users believe that many online daters lie about their marital status.
And then there are people who are doing screenings on themselves as a way to know what an employer will see if such a check is performed, Mather said. Volunteers, including those who work with children, are also having them done.
“They’re so worried, rightfully so, about one bad apple around the kids that volunteers are running their own background checks,” he said. American Red Cross volunteers, for example, use his service for background screenings.
In fact, the burden of doing a check should be on the individual seeking employment as a sitter, for example, or the person who wants a chance as a romantic partner, he believes. Mather thinks background checks should resemble credit checks, in that no one should be able to do a screening without permission of the individual.
Before you buy
Not all background screenings are created equally, and before plunking down money for a glimpse at the background of an individual, or yourself, it’s wise to do some research.
While none of the services are without flaws, Siciliano still recommends doing screenings for strangers who will be put in a sensitive position.
“Asking a security professional if he recommends a background check is like asking an auto mechanic if he recommends oil changes every 3,000 miles,” he said.
But before hiring someone to start digging, do some homework. Below are some factors to consider while choosing a firm for a background check:

* Ask for recommendations. As with many services, it’s probably a good idea to get the name of a company from someone you know and trust, Siciliano said. In this case, it might be an employer or human-resources professional who works with screening companies in the hiring of employees.
* Think business. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to hire a company that tends to target the corporate world than the “snoop type sites that are set up for the general public,” Siciliano said. If corporate America is using these firms, you can probably assume that it’s an established agency that does decent work, he said.
* Know exactly what you’re buying. “There’s such a huge variety of checks that you can do now: statewide checks, driving checks, identity checks, national checks. It’s important to ask when someone says that they do a national check exactly what that check includes,” Thiers said.
* Know the limits. Even then, understand that information about individuals is usually unavailable until they hit the age of 18, and even then some states will only keep information at the county or state level, Thiers added. To get at information that doesn’t surface in national searches, Intelius offers a “court runner network,” Petersen said.
* Get proper identification. While a name and date of birth will suffice to get a background check rolling, it’s best to have an individual’s Social Security number to submit to the company doing the screening, Siciliano said. That helps prevent screening the wrong person.
* Test it out. Mather recommends looking for a Better Business Bureau seal on the company’s Web site. He also suggests calling and/or e-mailing the company to make sure it’s possible to get a quick response.
* Watch the price. It’s probably not necessary to spend more than $100 for a background check; some companies offer them for as little as $29, Siciliano said. For a thorough check, it might not be a bad idea to do a few checks from different companies, as an “investment to your personal security,” he added.
End of Story

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch reporter based in Chicago.


Easy Come, East Go: Watch Out, Guys

Women aren’t the only ones who get used, though it does look like this gal used chat rooms and not dating sites:

Internet gypsy guilty of assault, leaving on information superhighway

It began as an Internet romance.

But when Tamie Shell was sentenced to four days in the Lincoln County Jail and given credit for time served for third-degree assault Thursday, the romance was over.

Shell, 48, told Lincoln County Judge Kent Turnbull that she planned to get out of North Platte as quick as she could.

After only two weeks in North Platte Shell, originally from Pennsylvania, has a place to go – she met a new man on the Internet and is going to live with him.

From Your Romance Coach, Kathryn Lord


Who Really Are You Dating?

While I opposed the move in Florida backed by True.com to push background checks by dating sites (see the piece I wrote about it for the Tallahassee Democrat here), I am a firm believer that singles need to be very cautious about who they decide to date.  Here’s an article that gives some suggestions for how to check out your date ton to find if he or she is really who they say they are, or if they have some trash in their background that they haven’t told and you need to know:

Online dating aids uncover red flags
CEDAR RAPIDS - It’s a little warped, I know, I know, but my first thought when Linn County’s warrants list went online? It’s another source to check out the backgrounds of potential dates.

Surely, I’m not the only person who thought that.

In other words, dating is not just about checking out a guy’s backside, but also his

How many of the Linn County warrants list’s first 24 hours of hits—a whopping 117,000 page views—were girlfriends, boyfriends or potential dates? Hmm?

``You’d be surprised by the people who are checking out someone they’re dating or thinking of marrying,’’ Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller said.

Employers also are using the site to check on employees, the sheriff said. I hadn’t thought of that. I figure I also can check out my son’s friends or their parents, just to be on the safe side before a party or overnight stay.

``It’s been an interesting little process,’’ Zeller said of the site’s many uses.

As a divorced mother, I not only have to be careful about whom I hang out with, but need to know as much as I can about any person I eventually might introduce to my son.

Maybe it’s my years of covering crime that have me thinking this way. Or perhaps it’s the horror stories I’ve heard about the children of single and divorced moms being victimized by the ``perfect’’ boyfriend. Either way, I’m going to research a guy for any obvious court-related red flags.

If you live in a small town where everybody knows everybody else, and you have friends in common with the potential date, a background check hardly seems necessary. However, if you meet a person who recently moved to town, or through an online dating service, digging is a good idea.

For the second year in a row, Illinois state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, introduced a bill, the Internet Disclosure and Safety Awareness Act, to require online dating sites in Illinois to disclose whether or not they perform background checks on members. A similar push was made in New Jersey.

Few sites do checks. And, their searches are only as good as the information members give them. Match.com doesn’t do member background checks, but offers tips for doing your own checking before a face-to-face meeting. Tips include running the potential date through http://www.ask.com or flat-out asking them to submit to a background check.


A lot of online sites offer more thorough checks of a person’s background for a fee. I haven’t gone that far. I stick to a few basic freebies.

I know a lot of ways to piece together basic information such as first and last names and age to find out a person’s full name, date of birth, basic criminal history and more. It can be tricky gathering basic information without sounding like a reporter or private investigator, but the effort is worth it.

Guy says he’s recently divorced? I head to http://www.iowacourtsonline.org

If the divorce was final within the last 15 years or so, it’ll be there. You also can check the same site for state criminal charges and civil cases, such as small claims, child support or orders of protection. Any cases with warrants won’t show up here.

In this way, my friend found a guy she had just started dating owed people money in small claims cases, and had a felony arson charge. The charge eventually was dropped, but he had some explaining to do. My friend never got that out of her mind. They broke up.

So far, none of the men I’ve met and checked out, either for dating or friendship, has been a debt-dodging/child-molesting/wife-beating psychotic.

But ya never know. So, I’m going to keep checking.

Web sites to help background checks

# http://www.ask.com
# http://www.iowacourtsonline.org
# http://www.iowasexoffender.com
# No divorce online? If you have a person’s address, you can do a reverse address search on http://www.411.com to see if the potential date is listed with a spouse.
# For federal court records—criminal, civil and bankruptcy—try PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records. Account set-up is necessary, and the charge is 8 cents a page.
# Want to know if a guy has moved around a lot? Type his name into http://www.zabasearch.com and you
can search one state or all 50 at a time. A list of addresses should pop up, sometimes with a birth month and year to help you figure out if you’re looking at the right person’s records.


Nigerian Scams on the Dating Sites

Most Internet users are aware of the “Nigerian Scam.” Heaven knows, I ‘ve written plenty about scams, Nigerian and otherwise.  See these blog entries. Here’s a story below about Nigerian scamming right on dating sites.  For sure, never, never, never send, loan, or give money to anyone you meet on a dating site.  Note also the resource identified here, Romancescams.org

From Your Romance Coach, Kathryn Lord

State Dept. Warns About Internet Dating Web Sites

(CBS) DENVER The U.S. State Department has issued warnings for users of Internet dating services. People posing as eligible singles are turning out to be scam artists from Nigeria and other countries.

CBS station in