Online dating bill passed but ducking some responsibility

An interesting piece came up earlier this week about the laws governing online dating. For those of us who have been hanging around dating sites long enough to be given a ticket for it, we know that just because someone comes across as gentile or kind in their profile or sounds cute in their private messages, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what they’re saying’s gonna pass any lie-detector test.

And to be honest, anyone who familiarises themselves with the ‘dating site safety’ pages, for those credible sites that take the time to post them irrespective of whether it’s the law or not, should have a good idea of what not to do, even if they don’t recognise the intent by a fraudulent ne’er-do-well hiding behind a ‘borrowed’ dating site profile.

However, some dating sites’ proclamations of adhering to laws may be misleading, even though the intention is to ensure the prospective member that theirs is a safe haven to look for their one true love online.

In Illinois last week a dating site safety bill (HB4083, if anyone’s collecting bill numbers like train-spotting) passed through the house by a huge 83-26 majority in favour of forcing all dating sites in the state to categorically state on their pages whether or not their members are vetted and background checked. Great – this is an advancement in online security that the dating community has been seeking for some time. But then some bright spark has only gone and spoilt the party!

The bill itself is, in essence, the same one that passed through New Jersey and New York four and two years ago respectively. And some of the more conscientious dating site owners already comply to all the legislation held within the document. For those sites that wish to attract singles who want and expect to do their online thang in 100% assuredness that everything’s kosher, they will have to follow a similar lead.

So, that’s it, then? Sign up, check that the single has been thoroughly checked out and away you go, you’re certain your prospect is safe to date, right? Nuh-uh. Wrong.

The problem, as highlighted by many a US dating review site, is that there is no industry standard as to what is acceptable as a background check. Okay, the dating site may state that a background check has been carried out, but is that just confirming who the prospective single is who they say they are or does it involve a criminal check, which in their own rite vary from state to state?

Or, has there indeed been a criminal check carried out and the single been given a clean bill of health because the registered name doesn’t match one found on any arrest or charge sheet? Let’s face it, if a scammer was going to choose to steal someone’s identity, they’re hardly going to steal one that appeared on Crimewatch UK, are they?

So, yes, we applaud Illinois for stating its intent; all we need now is for a definitive code that constitutes what a verified background check is, and we’ll all be happy bunnies this Easter, won’t we? What will come first – the checking or the egg?

New online dating treaty may raise core product value

We’ve long been advocates of dating site safety being a matter of course, not choice, here on dating.org.uk/category/online-dating-security. At last, it would seem that the law courts in California have put their feet down in a statement that categorically states security on dating sites should guarantee membership safety from scammers or individual targeting from fraudsters who are not who they purport to be or have a hidden past that they are choosing to leave out of their dating site profile.

It has often been thought that, if the top mainstream dating sites tow the line with their vast membership, then the others – that can afford to do so*- will follow suit. Instantly signing up to put online daters safety first are Spark, eHarmony and Match, who have vowed to begin screening for scammers, identity theft and predators of a sexual nature.

However, this is not a law that has been passed, but an official declaration through a recognised lawful body that the three dating sites will do whatever they can within their power to make their dating sites safer places for all members. It is hoped, and suspected, that other online dating platforms will go to the same lengths to protect their membership, but many may not have the budget for the man hours or the software to make this Utopian sector of cyberspace a reality.

Does this treaty signal the end of the free dating site?

*The three initial treaty dating sites to this endeavour sit right on the top branches of the online dating tree. They do make millions of pounds every year and can throw mega-bucks at the venture to ensure it is pulled off. And no doubt they will – it will be money better spent than on any marketing campaign that their sales and scientists could ever have dreamed up.

There are thousands upon thousands of horror stories every year where gullible singles have entrusted small fortunes to scammers disguised as genuine love interests with ‘believable’ plights. For those who have been burnt in the past but want to continue looking for love online, they will jump at the opportunity to sign up to a totally secure dating environment.

This will see free dating sites, who rely on advertising only for sponsorship, struggle to uphold any guarantees it makes and see online lovers leave in their droves to the protective umbrella of the three dating sites who have signed up to look after their respective memberships, plus the many who are expected to follow with similar credible promises.

it wouldn’t surprise this dating correspondent to see membership fees rise as a result of this extra safeguard. All of a sudden, the law has handed the online dating market a tool to promote its core product, hence commanding a bigger price in the market. Yes, you may feel safer, but just be sure that it’s not your dating site that ends up legally fleecing you, instead of a bogus profile created somewhere in deepest Africa.

Stick within your league for best dating site results

If you’re new to online dating, you may be apprehensive about sharing some of your personal information due to the hairy stories that make their way into the media. These reports can be from everything to the guy turning out to be a sex offender, the woman demanding money to even get to the first date or your potential partner singing Brotherhood of Man songs all the way through the date. All scary enough in their own rite, it’s true.

But before you get to that meeting up stage, there is plenty of other critical information you need to know about the entities that patrol dating sites under the guise of genuine singles looking for love online, whereas all they are really after is your money and they have developed some ingenious ways of doing it.

Even the most steadfast of singles get caught up in a fantasy web spun by these (generally) organised criminal gangs. But if you know beforehand what you’re looking out for, the telltale signs that you’re being approached by a scammer will stand out like a sore thumb.

Getting the best out of your online dating experience is all about being honest with yourself, not setting your expectations, not getting carried away by trying to impress another single who has caught your eye by pretending to be someone you’re not and, at all times, keep things in perspective by being totally honest with yourself and with anyone who shows interest in you. But not too much heavy personal stuff, at first – that type of information will have everyone on the dating site running for cover. Remember, many dating sites have seven-figure memberships: you are not the be all and all – there are thousands of others members that a single can move on to if you either come on too heavy or do not act within the parameters of dating site etiquette.

That said, you have a vague idea of who is in your league, if you go on the ‘like attract like’ unwritten rule. So if an absolutely stunning blonde of Scandinavian origin or chisel-chinned hunk with bulging biceps approaches you and you are by no means expecting to be contacted by someone of that calibre, start asking yourself: why? Not being funny, there is a 99.9% chance that the photo is not that of the person getting in touch, no matter how much they protest that they are Erika or Brad, rather, the image has been lifted from elsewhere, possibly even another dating site, on t’Internet and there’s an African national hiding behind the dating site profile with a rod and some heavy gauge line just waiting to reel you in.

Another giveaway is the opening line when someone new contacts you for the first time. It won’t open with a coy ‘Hi, there, I was wondering…’ or a ‘Just happened to see your profile…’. It will go straight for the jugular in ill-conceived English. The fraudster will open up with ‘My most beautiful darling,’ or ‘My most gorgeous sweetheart,’. All true enough sentiment when you’ve known someone for a while but, due to the foreign national’s lack of understanding of etiquette – they’ve probably lifted the text from a well-thumbed Mills & Boon – they make this fatal error (if you know to look out for it) upon first contact.

Stick with us; more over the weekend about what to look out for – and, more importantly, to report to the webmaster – to weed out the scammers from the genuine single looking to find you via the medium of online dating.

Dating site numbers increase, but so do the fraudsters

Over the years, especially in more recent enlightened and hyper-connected times, cyberspace has joined thousands upon thousands of couples together over the Internet through its myriad dating sites. As thousands of newbies join the world of online dating for the first time every day, it is sad to report that they are joined by a whole new breed of scammers waiting behind beautiful dating site profiles just waiting to alleviate them of any spare change – and a whole lot more – that they happen to have lying about doing nothing in particular.

According to one recent study, by leading online fraud outfit Iovation, the number of instances dating site frau has been detected has risen a huge 150% in line with the popularity of turning to the Internet to find love.

The report goes into some detail of how the fraudsters are operating. The bogus ‘unclaimed inheritance’, whereby the dating site member is asked for a fee to release the cash immediately to them if they are prepared to pose as the ‘only surviving victim’ of an imaginary stash of cash left in a bank vault in Africa is still quite a popular ruse. But people are becoming wise to this type of communiqué. It is the actual credit card information that they are starting to target, now – these large, organised gangs are becoming more savvy. There was a time when, through fear of being traced, they would only ever ask for money to be wired from outside the dating site’s confines, as this was totally untraceable, but now they are, according to the report, becoming more blaze and going for the jackpot, straight off.

To protect dating sites and their membership, webmasters can purchase software from Iovation which shows up bogus and fraudulent transactions using the ReputationManager 360 package. In 2010, 1.4% of transactions on dating sites implementing the program were found to be illegal. The 2011 comparative figure was 3.8% – considering the industry is worth $2bn dollars annually, you get some idea of the amount of actual we are talking about.

The realisation of a standard of minimum security for dating sites will hopefully be enforced one day soon, but for free dating sites, that may just be a bridge too far for their cash-flow. Income from advertising, except in exceptional businesses, very often does not stretch much further than the running costs and a (decent-ish) salary for said webmaster.

If new legislation is passed that means the end of the free dating site but also significantly cuts down on that 3.8% figure, surely the winners will be the online daters themselves and, of course, webmasters who take the security of their clients seriously. Win-win, if ever there was such a case.

Steps to avoid being scammed dating online

Despite the spiralling popularity of dating sites members of the public have guarded reservations about using a platform that a whole generation is growing up taking for granted. As schools, community programs and day care centres develop blogs, websites and Twitter and Facebook accounts, the days when the world of online dating was recalled with a sliver of ice tingling the spine will be just that, a distant memory.

Yet, despite a worldwide effort to increase dating site security, we cannot ignore the fact that fraud and scammers perpetuate the myth that dating sites are unsafe places to frequent, let alone consider meeting someone with whom you’d consider sharing the rest of your life.

If you’re new to the world of online dating, you are probably more vulnerable than seasoned Internet love seekers. Scammers instantly target new sign ups and in their desperation to at least start the ball rolling, the new sign up replies to that initial prompt.

After a period whereby the scammer gains the trust of the ‘newbie’, there will inevitably come the promise of a visit ‘if only they had the funds‘ or ‘a relative has been taken sick and they’re waiting for the insurance to clear’ or ‘there’s a [magical investment], but they (the scammer) need funds to see the reward come to fruition‘. All plights seem like humanitarian gifts of kindness or opportunities too good to pass up on behalf of the innocent dating site member. But if you loan the money, that’s the last you’ll ever see of it.

One recent report suggests the following ways to ensure you stay safe if you’re considering dipping a toe into the world of online dating:

Do not be tempted to open up lines of communication outside the domain of the dating site. Most dating sites offer enough ways to communicate in the early stages of a relationship to enable the member to assess whether there’s a future in the relationship. Do not give out your phone number or e-mail address until you have met the person who’s contacted you.

This article continues with further ways to protect yourself dating online and a quick tale of an e-mail I had only this month as soon as I joined what appeared, on the face of it, to be a professional networking site for writers, publishers and editors.  And I mean, this e-mail was waiting in my inbox before I’d even sent the confirmation that the e-mail I’d supplied was legit.  Scary.

Continue reading: Don’t let your guard down online dating

Don’t let your guard down online dating

We pick up from whence we left off with “Steps to avoid being scammed dating online” with a few keen tips from one observer @ BBB, then I’ll relate to you exactly the type of communication you may get on your dating site when you first sign up.

Initially the messages will be from someone who seems kind, loving and genuinely wants to build up a long term relationship, but those promises of love ever after will soon turn to tales of woe or golden opportunities – all designed as levers to get you to send your money to them, which will go straight into the bank account of an organised gang of swindlers who prey on ‘green’ dating site members, usually in Nigeria or other parts of North Africa.

If you are determined to send someone money because you’re absolutely certain that their cry for help is genuine, insist on a face-to-face meeting directly. As with anyone you meet for the first few times on dating sites, always make that in a very public place, in broad daylight and somewhere you can get home easily without relying on them to ‘see you home’. If they’re who they say they are and their plight is real, they will turn up. If they use distance as an excuse, offer to buy their travel tickets for them and you can send them on. Never give them the money to make their own arrangements to come see you.

And if they still get around you that way (they are very plausible and persuasive and know exactly where your heart strings lie and can exert pressure that would have them high-ranking in The Spanish Inquisition) never choose a wire service to send the cash. Wire transfers are almost totally untraceable and offer you no cover whatsoever if (when) your mystery date doesn’t show. At least with a credit card, you have insurance up to a point, though whether being duped on a dating site is covered, I very much doubt. It is this simple: never give money to someone you’ve met on a dating site!

And this last one goes without saying for any walk of life, but you’d be surprised at what information people are persuaded to relinquish about themselves when their guard is down. Bank account numbers, passwords, national insurance numbers, addresses – keep them to yourself. You’ve heard the stories about identity theft, right?

Even if you think giving the password to your dating site is an innocuous act, trained hackers can access all sorts of information about you even if they have just one way in. For ease, people tend to adopt a ‘one password fits all‘ mentality; with the amount of separate accounts users of the Internet sign up for, it’s only a matter of time before they find the one that leads to your bank account or credit card. It’s called personal information for a reason.

Guys, I’m all out of time for my tale of being approached by a scammer – first article tomorrow, promise. Stay safe and be lucky in love. x

Men aren’t immune to online dating scammers

In recent times there have been huge strides taken in the online dating industry to protect the female of the species online. Not from just scammers masquerading as love-lorn singles but also from men who have a dubious past and, as they may have become social lepers, turn their trade to unfortunate victims online.

However, as much as it is fantastic to see the warning signs gradually becoming more commonplace on existing and up and coming dating sites to advise women to be careful who they’re sharing their innermost secrets and stockpiles of cash with, spare a thought for the men out there who themselves are not invincible.

Every woman I’ve ever met knows that men are suckers for a winning smile, twinkly eyes and a flash of cleavage. One word of flattery from a ‘woman’ who posts a dating site profile ticking all of those boxes pretty much guarantees that the newbie dating male will be putty in their hands; or not, as the case may be.

If all of the women in the world know this and can use these charms to great effect to get what they want – to be fair, most honest men know it, too – do we not think that the scammers of this world realise it, also? It’s a tactic that works time and again for fraudsters on dating sites: a bit of flattery, get chatting, and pretty soon they’re not only exchanging phone numbers with the blinkered male, the ‘woman’s’ number running through a relay in the US or UK to make it convincing (and many organised gangs of African scammers have got some serious wedge behind them to be able to do this, it’s so lucrative an industry), but they’re exchanging credit card numbers, too, in order to fund and overcome whatever ‘unforeseeable’ event has stopped the ‘woman’ from hopping on the next domestic flight or express train to be at the unsuspecting male’s side.

Okay, said naïve gent may not be so green as to fall for the same ploy twice (but he might); you can just imagine the tills chinging with $100 cash-transfers from the thousands of lonely men wiring money to their super-good-looking, fictitious online partner who, in reality, is a young Nigerian male wearing a shirt and tie in a small African village, juggling ten or twenty similar profiles on his laptop, all to the same effect.

Gents, if it seems too good to be true that this beautiful Nordic blonde you’ve met on your dating site wants to meet up but has ran out of cash just at the moment she’d decided to abandon her native Scandinavia to be at your side, then it probably is.

Australia cracking down on fraudulent dating sites

It’s bad enough for the online dating community having to look out for scammers behind ordinary-looking profiles of their site without having to worry if the dating site itself is going to rip them off. But, following 186 separate complaints about just this type of practise, New South Wales Fair Trading are cracking down on dating sites that are offering substandard service, failing to issue due refunds and not cancelling memberships when requested to

Some of the dating sites in question are being accused of promising to find their members partners, charging them ‘thousands of dollars’ for the privilege, then failing to deliver on their promise. In the face of so much rising competition down under where the online dating is going through an explosion at the minute, both on the Internet and offline as large cities struggle to accommodate singles eager to give speed dating a fair crack of the whip, you would think that dating sites in it for the long haul would up their game, which doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Fair Trading Minister, Antony Roberts, explains.

Refering to Australia’s standing of being one of the world’s largest homes for big-sea fish cruising the country’s miles of reef, he stated that the only sharks he was concerned about at this moment were the human sort “swimming around the dating game.”

The minister also alikened the dating sites in question to the Hotel California, where once you check in, it becomes extremely difficult to finalise the bill, both in the way you are tempted to stay to give it one last shot because of the time and effort you’ve put in to date, which you don’t want to flush down the dunny without some recompense and also that the proprietors just will not stop charging you, even when you ask for the check.

There are two dozen dating sites under suspicion of trading with unfair contracts represented in their terms and conditions and with contracts that present false or misleading representations of what they actually deliver compared to what the customer is led to believe. Ten more are being investigated for unfair provisions in their contract terms.

Given that the Australian dating community reported losing AUS$17M in 2011, a rise of AUS$2M on 2010, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission are drawing up stricter guidelines for issuing dating site licenses and pressing owners to post highly-visible warnings and guidelines to its members on awareness and reporting of scammers.

Due to the global volume of this recurrent problem, this ought to be adopted by anyone who launches their own dating site, to protect and keep its membership. We can but live in hope…