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TMCNet:  The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Watchdog column

[February 14, 2013]

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Watchdog column

Feb 14, 2013 (The Morning Call (Allentown - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- If you're lonely this Valentine's Day, remember the sorry tale of Notre Dame football stud Manti Te'o and proceed cautiously with your relationships. Te'o was fortunate to have only his heart broken. Other dating scammers break the bank of their victims.

Online romance cons cost jilted lovers more than $50 million in 2011, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Sweetheart swindles and friendship scams were the seventh-most common scam reported by the National Consumers League that year.

Chat rooms and social media sites are like singles bars for these cheats. They hang out, hoping to strike up relationships. They may tell you they are overseas on business or travel. When they think they've stuck you with Cupid's arrow, they'll ask you to send them money to help them with some hardship, or so they can come and see you.

If you take the bait, they'll reel you in and ask for more and more, until you realize all they're interested in is your cash. People desperate for love in the Lehigh Valley area have fallen for these tricks.

A Bethlehem woman told police she was scammed out of more than $21,000 by a man she met on a dating website. After they communicated online for a while, he convinced her to send him money for supplies for a project he was working on for an oil company in Nigeria.

A Montgomery County man fell into a similar trap, though his case had a happier ending. A scammer fell into a trap himself and ended up in handcuffs.

The victim told Hatfield Township police he'd met a woman online who told him she would be traveling to Africa to star in a movie, and needed money to cover her expenses. Police said he sent her about $24,000, believing she eventually would come to Hatfield to be with him.

A bank teller got suspicious when the man tried to withdraw another $46,000, which he intended to give to a courier who would deliver it to his long-distance love. Police were waiting when the courier showed up at a hotel near the Philadelphia airport to pick up the cash. He later pleaded guilty to attempted theft by deception.

Never send money to someone you've never met, regardless of how charming they may seem or the promises they make. I'm not saying online dating doesn't work. But you can't have a completely virtual relationship. Ask Te'o.

If you're not familiar with him, he was a star linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate who became an inspiration in part because he played through the grief of what he thought was the tragic death of his girlfriend last year. In January, it was revealed that the girlfriend, whose relationship with Te'o was solely online and by phone, didn't exist. She been made up by a man who posed as her in an elaborate and disturbing hoax.

If you're one of those old-fashioned folks who prefers meeting your mate in person, there are things you should avoid, too, even if you're certain you've finally found the one. If the relationship peters out and you never walk down the aisle, your former lover can do all sorts of damage, intentionally or unintentionally.

An Allentown woman could have lost her home after adding her fiance's name to the deed and leaving it there after they broke up. Her ex later failed to pay a bill. The creditor sued, won a judgment and intended to collect by selling her house because his name was on the deed and the house was considered his asset, too.

Because she and her fiance weren't married, she wasn't protected by the joint-asset law that prohibits a person's belongings from being levied for their spouse's misdeeds. The only way she kept the home was by striking a deal with the creditor to pay off her ex-fiance's debt.

Don't share a bank account or give your lover the password to your social media accounts before you're married, either. If you have a nasty breakup, they can wipe out your savings or your reputation.

"Sharing passwords with your partner might seem harmless, but it often puts you at risk for a 'revenge of the ex' situation, landing private information in a public platform for all to see," Michelle Dennedy, an online security expert for McAfee, said in a recent statement about pitfalls in romances. "Everyone needs to be aware of the risks and take the steps to make sure their personal data is safe and secure." In any relationship, married or not, it's best to keep some things private.

A McAfee survey found one in 10 ex-partners had threatened to expose risque photos of their ex online, and carried out the dirty deed about 60 percent of the time.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center has received reports of people who were baited into intimate online conversations, then extorted to keep those conversations from going public. Victims were sent links to websites that included the conversations and proclaimed them to be cheaters, with an offer to have the posts removed for $99.

More tips on how to avoid falling head over heels for some heel are on my blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/watchdog/.

The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by email at watchdog@mcall.com, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. Follow me on Twitter at mcwatchdog and on Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.

___ (c)2013 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Visit The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) at www.mcall.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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