The Checkout

Buy Me Love

Before I get going today, I just wanted to say thanks for the warm welcome back! I really expected a welcoming party of crickets. And my father-in-law, Ted. (Hello, Ted!) And that's it. So it was a real surprise and delight to see folks writing in to say they kept The Checkout on their RSS feeds. (For those interested in the baby, she's great at everything but sleeping. The hub and I are resigned to the fact that our wills our weak--so weak!--and that our daughter can outscream us any night, but more on that some other time!)

On to being useful....

In the Debbie Downer Department today, we have this alert from the National Consumers League about con artists who lurk on Internet dating sites.

Love Stinks: Consumers Getting Swindled by Virtual 'Sweethearts'

Washington, D.C. -- The saying "love hurts" is proving true for consumers who have searched for romance online, only to lose thousands of dollars to a supposed suitor.

"The Sweetheart Swindle is often a long, drawn out process in which the con artist nurtures a relationship, and eventually convinces the victim to send money repeatedly over an extended period of time," said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League.

While NCL's Fraud Center has only been tracking this type of scam since July 2007, it gained enough momentum in the second half of the year to move to the top 10 scam list. According to complaints logged at NCL's Fraud Center (, the average victim lost more than $3,038 last year to Sweetheart Swindles. However, the full extent of the fraud is unknown, given many victims' reluctance to admit to being scammed.

"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," Greenberg said.

Though the details of the scammers' stories vary with each individual case, the scenario commonly revolves around a tragedy having befallen the scammer, and he or she desperately needs money. After spending time communicating and building a relationship with the victim, the scammer asks for help in the form of money.

"Consumers need to use caution and common sense when dealing with someone they haven't met in person. Remember to never send the person money in any form, no matter how compelling or heart-wrenching their story may be," Greenberg said. "Don't let your 'love' for your online suitor to allow you to be robbed blind. While they may not love you, they would love to take your money, so be sure to only consider giving money to someone you've met in person, have known for a long time, and can truly trust. Or be prepared to kiss your money - and your special friend - goodbye."

Indicators you may be dealing with a scammer:

· The person asks you for money, to cash a check or money order.
· Your online sweetie says, "I love you" almost immediately.
· The person claims to be a U.S. citizen who is abroad, and or claims to be well off, or a person of important status.
· The person claims to be a contractor, and needs your help with a business deal.

"What consumers using these dating Web sites fail to recognize, is that they may be working with professional con artists, many who may even be using stolen identities with which to fabricate information they're giving out", Greenberg said.

Two Tales of 'Love' Gone Wrong: Victim Sweethearts

Susan, a consumer who contacted NCL's Fraud Center, met one such scam artist on a dating Web site. She befriended a man from her Kansas City, Mo., hometown, who said he was working as an engineer in Nigeria. He wooed her for two months - sent her flowers and said, "I love you," - before he asked her for money. Now, $35,000 later, Susan has taken out a second mortgage on her house to pay off the credit card debt she amassed sending him money.

In April 2007, Donna cautiously ventured into the world of online dating. Within a week, she was contacted by a man with whom she began to chat. They chatted multiple times a day for seven months. He said he was a wealthy business man, who lived in a nearby city and was temporarily in Africa on business. In October, he said his contract in Africa would soon be up and that he wanted to meet, but he needed $250 to hold him over until a check cleared. Donna offended her new sweetie when she expressed her hesitancy to give money to a stranger. So she sent him the money, and later another $1,500, never to hear from him again.

That's the missive from the NCL.
The second item on their "clues your sweetie is defrauding you" list--"says 'I love you' almost immediately"--kills me. Guess love at first sight and a good credit rating don't go hand in hand. Sigh.

Well, Happy Valentine's Day anyway everyone!

By Annys Shin |  February 14, 2008; 9:00 AM ET Consumer Alerts
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Michelle Singletary writes about this in her column today as well. Happy Valentines Day.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 14, 2008 10:24 AM

How stupid can you be? It's just like a person who gets divorced one weekend and gets remarried the following weekend! Typical woman-go figure!!

Posted by: Just another Commie | February 14, 2008 4:35 PM

just another commie -

I'm a woman...and a blonde at that...and I know better than this! Please don't stereotype on gender.

But seriously, we've been warned against on-line scams for years. We've been told not to trust people you haven't met in person. How stupid can some people be?!?

Posted by: ffxgal | February 14, 2008 5:34 PM

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