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Online Dating: Salvation or Scam

Updated on May 17, 2019

And They Call This "Dating"?

Imagine what the word "dating" meant back in the day: You and another person would meet at school, a party, a sporting event or through a friend; you'd strike up a conversation and, after awhile, you'd feel some sort of connection, which would lead to one of you (usually the male of the species) inviting the other to meet again. You might even meet someone on a "blind date" usually set up by a mutual acquaintance. If you got along, you would continue to see one another. If not, you'd just chalk it up to experience and move along.

Then, with the advent of technology, online dating appeared, and everything changed. Now, if you want to meet someone you can do so from the comfort of your den. There are a few catches to this kind of dating, though. For one thing, you might have to follow the rules (as outlined in several books on the subject) and- even more important- you have to be aware of the fact that not all people are as honest as you are. Sadly, if you meet even one of those people online, you will regret that you ever became involved with this technology-driven type of dating.

Buyer Be Wary

If you choose to become a member of a dating site, you probably are hoping to find a companion, a partner, a friend and/or the man/woman of your dreams with whom you can ride off into the sunset. Indeed, there are many people who have found their Perfect Partners through online dating. On the other hand, there also are many who have watched their dreams evaporate and their sunset turn into a black hole. So before you go ahead and sign up, you should consider a few things that might not have occurred to you.

The first thing you need to know is the fact these online dating sites definitely are not free, so you need to familiarize yourself with the fine print. For one thing, once you sign up and give them your credit card number, some sites will automatically renew your membership every month unless you are very careful to call and cancel within the slim window they give you. Also, some will offer a "special" 50% discount...but when you read the fine print, the discount is good only if you sign up for a year. Others will tell you that you can join free of charge, but after you post your picture and your profile you realize that you can't receive messages (at least ones that you can read) or that pictures and profiles and pictures of suggested matches are blurred so that you can't possibly see them.

Also, you need to know that- at least on some online dating sites- you'll see a lot of "action" (smiles, winks, messages) during the first few weeks after you join; then all the activity will taper off considerably. In addition to this, you'll quickly find out that some people haven't posted a picture. (Would you want to meet someone for coffee and find out that he weighs 400 pounds?!), or if they have posted a picture, it's 10 years old. (From what I've heard, that happens quite often.)

If someone tells you that there are "rules" that you need to follow if you're willing to enter the rudderless realm of online dating, you might want to consult one of the books that have been written on the subject. When I perused one of them, it seemed to me that most of the odds were stacked in favor of the males. For example, according to the book a I consulted, if a man sends a woman a message through the online dating site, the woman should not respond until at least twenty-four hours from the time she received the message; otherwise, she will come through as "too eager" and the man will want nothing to do with her. (As I read that, this thought occurred to me: What if you're a senior citizen, and you don't have that kind of time to waste?) In fact, the more I read, the more I felt that I had been transported back to junior high school.

Learn From (Other People's) Experience/Mistakes

Someone I know entered the world of online dating in January and by February had some not-too-encouraging tales to tell about her experiences. For one thing, the first guy she met for coffee (and that's something you really need to take to heart: ALWAYS meet a prospective partner at a "neutral" site, just for coffee or a bite to eat, and DO NOT give him your address until you are absolutely positive that he/she can be trusted) was merely separated from his wife. when my friend inquired as to why he was dating despite the fact that he wasn't even divorced, he replied that one of his children was against a divorce. (The "child" in question happened to be in her thirties.) That was the last my friend- we'll call her "Kendra"- heard from this distinguished lawyer (!), which was fine with her.

Despite striking out the first time, Kendra was looking forward to her second "coffee" (it seems like a stretch to call these events "dates") with someone she'd met online, From his profile, it seemed like she and "Jim" had quite a bit in common. When they met for coffee and a light lunch, she wasn't convinced that she was physically attracted to him, but the more they talked, the more she felt like Jim and she could become good friends. Jim must have felt some kind of connection, too, because a week or so later he asked her to meet him at a museum. Kendra was aware of the fact that he was an admirer of art, but when she met him at the museum she felt a disturbing vibe that indicated his interest in art went far beyond admiration into the realm of downright snobbery. Despite the fact that Kendra did her best to appear interested in the artwork, by the end of the quasi-"date", Jim's patronizing tone/behavior made it clear that this "friendship" was over.

Then there was Mark. Kendra admits that looking back on it, there definitely were signs that this was not the guy for her. For example, on the online dating website, Mark had asked for her email address so that he could send her pictures of himself (which should have been posted on the site in the first place). Not only did she give him her email address; she said that she'd send him a picture of her dogs (since her picture was on the website , and her online profile noted that she had dogs.) His first reply asked Kendra whether she was being sarcastic. (I guess he must have thought that she was comparing him to a dog?!) When she assured him that she was not, he continued emailing back and forth until he (finally) asked her to meet him for coffee. She did. They talked. And that was that.

When the Dream Becomes A Nightmare

After the first three debacles, Kendra decided to take a break from online dating. After waiting two months (her last "coffee hookup" had occurred in February), near the end of April she agreed to meet someone at the same place where she'd met the first candidate. One good thing was the fact that, unlike the first one, this man was divorced. One not-so-good thing was the fact that he claimed to have been divorced for over thirty years. Kendra says that she could tell almost immediately that Joe thought she was too old for him (despite the fact that he had seen her picture, and her age was clearly stated on her profile). He constantly checked his watch, and almost exactly an hour after the time they'd met, he announced that he had better get going in order "to avoid the traffic." (The time was 3:00 PM.) What upset her more than anything, though, was the fact that despite a six-year age difference, Kendra was in at least as good shape as Joe was.

By this time, Kendra was ready to pack it in and forget that she had ever considered online dating. (Think about it: even the term itself is something of an oxymoron.) A couple of days later, though, she received a message on the online site from a man who claimed he was just about to remove his profile from the site because he had found "the woman of my dreams" when his cousin saw Kendra's picture and profile and really wanted to connect with her, particularly since they lived in the same area of the country. He went on to ask her to send her email address to his cousin "Sam" so that he could send her his picture and information (since he did not belong to the online dating website.) Kendra was so impressed by the length and sincerity of the request that she sent Sam her email address.

She didn't have to wait long for a reply. The next morning, just as his cousin had promised, Sam sent Kendra an email with two pictures of himself attached. He said his wife had died several years ago... of the same disease to which Kendra's husband had succumbed, which shocked her, since that fact certainly did not appear on her profile. He also said that he was very lonely; it didn't help that his only child lived in another country. He also explained that honesty was extremely important to him.

Kendra answered Sam's email later that afternoon, and the following morning she received a reply that included quite a few questions that Sam felt were important in getting to know one another. ("How tall are you?" "What is your favorite TV show?" "Jeans or dress?" "If we were to cook dinner together, what would it be?" "Do you travel a lot for your job?") Although Kendra admits that some of the questions bothered her (particularly the one about traveling for her job, since her profile stated that she was retired), she took the time to answer all eighteen of them. After all, she reasoned, none of them were all that invasive. (The number of questions alone should have raised a red flag.) She also requested that Sam answered the same questions, and he complied.

The pattern (Kendra received an email from Sam every morning around 9AM, and she replied a few hours later) continued for five days, with Joe's emails becoming increasingly romantic. He always began them with, "Hi Gorgeous," "Hi Beautiful," etc. and continued with essay-like tomes outlining his strong feelings about honesty, loyalty, his burning desire to hold hands... you get the picture. He eventually asked for her phone number, and Kendra complied.

By the sixth day, Sam claimed in his email to have fallen in love with Kendra, despite the fact that she had previously noted her desire to take things slowly. The email read like one of those sleazy romance novels, and all of the red flags that Kendra had been noticing suddenly came crashing together to spell the word "SCAM." When several hours went by and she had not answered the email, her phone dinged: she had received her very first text from Sam. "Hi Kendra," it read. "How are things going today? This is Sam." That sealed it. There was no doubt in her mind that she had almost been scammed...and that the scammer's name certainly wasn't "Sam" , and wherever it was he lived was nowhere near her and could very well be in another country. (The fact that he never had answered her question of exactly where the city he lived in "closeby" was located had been another red flag.) As she went through all of Joe-Mohammed-Lilu-Cecil-Sranka-Andrew-whoever's emails, Kendra wrote down all of the details that she had questioned and was reminded of a variation of the adage "If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't": If a red flag goes up, there probably is a reason."

It didn't take Kendra long to realize that this scammer/scammers probably was the same person/persons as at least two others who had contacted her on the online dating site... they had ceased corresponding exactly when "Sam" became involved. Also, he/they also had been able to find out more about her because her email actually spelled her name, and we all know how easy it is- thanks to modern technology- to search for just about anything and come up with some impressive results... which also explained the "coincidence" of their spouses having been affected by the same illness. Looking up an obituary takes about ten seconds if you know the decedent's name, which Sam obviously had learned from searching Kendra's name.

Respect the Red Flags

The more Kendra thought about it, the more she realized that a number of red flags had gone up during her brief "acquaintance" with Sam. (She now realizes that "Sam" could even have been "Samantha".) After her scary experience, I decided to do a search of the online dating website that she had used. When I typed in the name, all kinds of negative comments appeared. I certainly am not blaming this particular website for my friend's experience, but if you choose to participate in online dating, you do have to keep in mind the fact that there is just so much a dating website can do to prevent scams from occurring. If a scammer owns a computer, he has all the tools he needs at his fingertips. All he needs to do is come up with a picture (they can be found all over the internet), get the email address and/or phone number of his target, create an over-the-top profile, and hope he attracts someone who is naive enough, lonely enough, or just plain unlucky enough to buy into his scam... at which point he'll come up with a sob story to justify why his new "love" has to send him money.

Many people have had positive experiences while participating in online dating; some have not been as fortunate. So...If you choose to try online dating, just remember to Proceed With Caution, and Know When It's Time To Move On.


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