Charade: Has the Internet's "Safest Dating Site" Become a Scammer Haven?
In our book, Cyber Love's Illusions: Exploring Internet Romance Scams, we have dedicated a whole chapter to "Finding Love in All the Right Places." We invite our readers to enter our "Scam-Free Zone," and on the way there, we take them through the "Black List Zone." We are already in our second edition of the book. This new edition includes a lot of added material and new victim stories. We are disappointed that we have had to add a few more Internet Dating Sites to our Black List. We are equally disappointed that the ranks of the three sites in our Scam-Free Zone have not increased.
Since the book was first published in February of this year, one dating site has definitely surprised us. They were already on our Black List, but the sad stories we hear from scam victims are coming in at a rate which is getting our undivided attention. This particular site also surprises us because it might be one of the sites people least expect to be a haven for scammers. This dating site's CEO and his staff clearly hold their site out as THE "Moral Compass" when it comes to Internet dating, claiming to be the safest dating site on the Internet. Each "communicating member" goes through a mandatory criminal background check and marital status check, based upon public records on the Internet.
Here is what they have posted on their site:
"Our Member Safety team vigorously pursues individuals who misrepresent themselves on our website. We report violators to appropriate federal, state and local authorities, including parole boards. We also actively pursue prosecution of these offenders in other ways."
With this kind of "vigor," consumers are left with the undeniable impression that this site is indeed safe, in fact, maybe THE safest site around. But, the fact of the matter is, THIS SITE IS NOT SAFE! We're not in a position to declare if this site is safe from felons and married people, but we can say that IT IS NOT SAFE FROM SCAMMERS. In fact, it is a veritable SCAMMER HAVEN!
Romance Scams are the fastest growing scam on the Internet. Billions of dollars a year are being stolen from hard-working Americans and other Westerners and sent to West African nations, especially Nigeria, and also to Russia and other former Soviet Republics. To make matters worse, the F.B.I. has confirmed that a percentage of this money is being funneled to Islamic Terrorists for use in Global Terrorism against freedom-loving people.
So, when we see sites which are Scammer Havens, we realize there is a lot at stake. Not only are hearts being broken, bank accounts being emptied, innocent victims being charged with felonies, but terrorists like Osama bin Laden are mocking us and using our own money against us to destroy us and our economy.
Which site has captured our attention? None other than True.com, founded and owned by multi-billionaire business tycoon Herb Vest of Dallas, Texas. Are we to believe that Mr. Vest and his associates are not aware of scammer infestation on their dating site? They talk so much about being felon- and married-free. In fact, on his own website, http://www.herbvest.com/saferdating.html, Mr. Vest makes the following statement:
"In addition to screening our own communicating members for criminal backgrounds, TRUE is doing everything it can to make the online dating community at-large a more wholesome environment for courtship – one that provides increased protection from predators and criminals."
On his True.com site, http://www.true.com/saferdating, in an open letter, Mr. Vest comments further on his commitment to members' safety:
"I wholeheartedly believe that it is incumbent upon each dating service currently operating in cyberspace to make the safety and security of its members its number one priority . . . Together, we can clean up the online dating industry."
Number one priority? If they claim to be such a safe and secure dating site, then why have they not addressed the growing predator/scammer epidemic on their site? Words about commitment are cheap. Sincere words will lead to sincere action.
If they claim to be such a safe and secure dating site, then what are they doing to address the growing scammer epidemic on their site? Several months ago, we wrote to ask them what they are doing about the common scammer problem, and they did not respond to our inquiry.
We know they are fully aware of this problem because below are a few samples of the letters they have received from their members who are complaining about scammers on their site. Each letter a member sent received the generic, "We'll look into it" reply. We don't know if the scammer profiles were removed or not. The point here is that they must know they have a problem. And, what are they doing to address this growing problem head-on?
Subject: YOU ARE ADVERTISING SCAMMERS AGAIN
"I’m writing at this time to inform you that you’re posting a profile and picture of a Nigerian scammer. The picture isn’t the real person, but was stolen from http://www.focushawaii.com/, and this person has been scamming American women out of thousands of dollars. If you do an IP address check on this member, you’ll see it is from Nigeria. This is the third scammer I’ve found!"
A female member wrote:
Subject: Photo issues
"romeo306912 is using photos from http://www.focushawaii.com/ which is a modeling site. He is a suspected scammer and needs to be removed from your database!"
Another female member wrote:
Subject: Report offensive users
"Arnold IS A NIGERIAN SCAMMER, go to http://www.focushawaii.com/ and http://www.romancescam.com/ and www.datingnmore.com sites to see this man's face. REMOVE HIM NOW if you want me to continue to be a customer. He is the model, RICK on Focus Hawaii."
Here are several stories, written by real people, which our research has found and which we want to take out of the shadows into the light. The last tragic story should make anyone sit up and take notice, and then take action:
A male member wrote:
"I met her on True.com back in October, 2005, and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I was scammed in November for over $2,000. This women says her name is Absiola Omoniyi, and she told me to send the money to Lagos Island Lagos State Nigeria. I sent money orders to cash for her, and send her the money Western Union. Like an idiot, I fell for it. My bank held the money orders for 4 days, but they came back counterfeit after about 7 days. Of course, by then, I had sent the money. I can't get a bank account now because of this person."
Another male member wrote:
"I met Ekaterina Usova from St. Petersburg, Russia on True. com when she wrote me a letter saying her friend Natasha had found a boyfriend on the Internet and they now lived together and she was looking for true love. After a week and a half, she said she had fallen in love and wanted to come see me but needed money for her passport and visa. She needed $383. I told her I did not have it. She kept writing for several more weeks telling me she was looking forward to coming and seeing me. She even forwarded a letter that her mother had written me via email. And let me know how excited they were that she was so happy and had found love. She stopped writing after I told her that I would come to Russia to see her."
Another man was scammed by a Russian “woman” on True.com:
"Been writing to this hot Russian dentist named NADEZHDA ANDRIYAUSKAS! She wrote to me through True.com under hopes_dreams. Never once did I suspect anything. Then I got an e-mail from her with photo of passport and she was short $219, so I helped her out! Then she went to Moscow, and needed $500 for leaving Russia. After she gets the money, I get e-mail from her telling me she is in hospital. Then that is it! Have not heard anything else. Then my friend tells me, he is writing to this Russian model and sends me a photo of her and sure enough, there she is in all her glory! She caught me completely off guard and I feel like an idiot."
Here's yet another story of a man who met his scammer on True.com:
"I originally met her on True.com. I have not received any responses from the FBI website that I reported this to. I thought she was for real and all of her e-mail was very convincing. She told me she needed money for her visa and air fare. I sent her $400. I also sent here $1,700 for air fare and money for hotel and food while she obtained her visa. She then stated she had received the visa and found out she needed $1,000 for guarantee money to prove to customs she had enough money to stay in the states. I sent it to her. I later found after contacting the embassy that this was a common scam. She then stated that she got in trouble with customs by not claiming a Russian gift and had to pay a fine and fees and was short money for the trip and asked for and additional $650. I was about to send it when the Western Union rep told me she was receiving money from several locations in the states. She e-mailed me trying to make me feel guilty for her problems and still asked for more money."
Another male wrote:
"I was scammed out of $50,000. I cannot believe I was so stupid and naive. I truly believed that these "women" were in love with me. I have lost everything, and sacrificed so much of my life. Now I am filing for bankruptcy because of this, and I am seriously contemplating suicide, though I am probably too much of a coward to kill myself. I am going to have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to struggle and survive until I can get back on my feet. I may even have to be homeless for awhile until I can save enough to get a place to live again. People consider me a very intelligent person, and no one believes that I fell victim to this and let it completely destroy my life. I have given all information to the FBI. I even made sure it was passed along to INTERPOL. But I was basically told that the sheer volume of people being scammed over the Internet everyday is more than the FBI (or INTERPOL) can handle. In fact, an agent of the FBI told me that I should be glad that I did not lose more. Apparently, there are many people who have lost much more than I have. In some cases, older people have lost their entire life's savings for retirement and/or now have more debt than they can ever pay back. I guess this is a national problem, and it is an epidemic that is beginning to hurt our economy. But, no one seems to know what to do to stop it."
There ARE ways to stop it. If True.com and other scammer-infested Internet dating sites really WANT to clean up their sites from these lurking parasites and really make their sites safe for their members, they can. It's not that difficult, but it does require being proactive, vigilant, diligent, and committed to member safety with action following. It means cleaning up their database and then keeping it clean.
In an interview with Internet Patrol, Mr. Vest made the following comments:
"The most important duty of government is to protect its citizens. One way government can protect the health and safety of its citizens is requiring companies to disclose limitations in their product or service. Government required disclosure is a common practice. From the tobacco industry to the food and drug industry, disclosure is a proven and effective method of communicating with consumers, particularly when health and safety is concerned."
If True.com decides to ignore or minimize the problem they have with scammers among their members, perhaps Mr. Vest should take his own advice, even without government legislation, and put a notice on his company's home page which states: "There are SCAMMERS among us. Enter at your own risk. Beware!"
If True.com wants to remain a leading contender in the Online Dating Industry, or even become the Champion, wresting the title from Yahoo! or Match.com, they need to clean house. Otherwise, I do believe the handwriting is on the wall. Growing consumer dissatisfaction will inevitably lead to costly litigation and public outrage, eventually taking down The Golden Boy's Mighty Multi-Billion Dollar Empire.
Buy a copy of our book, Cyber Love's Illusions, written by myself with Jonathan van Helsing, and see what the three dating sites in our Scam-Free Zone are doing to keep their sites scammer-free and a safe haven, not for clever scammers, but for their valued members.
Click here to buy the book: http://www.cyberlovesillusions.com/
It is also available on Amazon.com