Lonely Heart Scams, Healthy Hearts & Minds ---the Focus Of Valentine's Day Self-help Activities In The Hudson Valley

Thomas P. Morahan

February 12, 2007

New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan and SUNY Rockland Community College (RCC) announced sponsorship of a Valentine's Day-related series of "Healthy Hearts, Healthy Minds," health screenings and informational workshops at Rockland Community College on February 13,14, and 15. Senator Morahan, who chairs the New York Senate's Mental Health Committee also announced his concern this week for the mental well-being of "lonely hearts" who have an increased chance of falling victim this Valentine's Day to matchmaking scams on the Internet.

The 'healthy hearts and minds' events at RCC will include blood pressure screenings, body fat measurement, fitness class demonstrations – yoga, pilates, nutrition screening, substance abuse prevention awareness workshops, demonstrations and course information for those interested in serving as firefighters, EMS technicians, as members of the emergency medical services, in cyber security, as police trainers, or nurses. For a complete list and time of these special activities, contact Doreen Zarcone at Rockland Community College at (845) 574-4323.

The Senator further elaborated on the scams by noting: "This Valentine's Day con artists will seek to gain the trust of people searching for soul mates online. They can be easy targets for fraud. The NYS Consumer Protection Board (CPB) has indicated that this is the week where the most vulnerable among us are more likely to fall victim to matchmaking scams on the Internet. I urge New Yorkers to pay heed to the following do's and don'ts suggested by the Consumer Protection Board:"

ŸGo slow before going steady: Proceed with caution when meeting someone through a dating service. Be careful not to offer too much information that can identify you or your address. You can usually uncover a con artist if you're persistent in demanding answers to detailed questions. Use an Internet search engine to verify and gather more information. There have been too many cases of women being stalked or assaulted by strangers they meet online. If you move from online chatting to talking on the phone, use a disposable cell phone or calling card number to avoid the possibility of harassment later on.

ŸThere's no free lunch: There are a growing number of "free" dating web sites, as well as dating services offering "free" trial memberships. Consumers complain that scam artists use free sites because there is less monitoring and paperwork for subscribers. Additionally, with "free" trial memberships, consumers must check the fine print – which changes frequently with some services – to know when and how to cancel their membership and avoid paying fees. Many of the scammers also use stolen credit cards to purchase long term memberships to the various dating services as well. Remember, just because someone is a paying member does not make them real.

ŸLet's go some place more private: Another red flag is when you "meet" someone on a dating-service web site but they want to continue the conversation at a web site or an instant messenger service where the conversation will not be monitored. This also allows them to speak to several people at one time.

ŸSometimes, love is a five-letter word: When you "meet" someone online or when reading their often-invented profile, watch for misspellings and other signs that they may be a con artist who does not live in the United States.

ŸLooks too good to be true: When an online profile includes a professional-looking photograph, that may be a sign that there's more (and less) here than meets the eye. Dating experts also say to look for wedding rings, body or facial features that don't match their profile.

ŸWink, wink, nudge, nudge: Consumers complain that some web sites will send you false messages claiming to be from someone interested in meeting you (These messages are called "winks" or "icebreakers.") These phony winks will show up just before a trial membership or your subscription is about to lapse.

ŸLike dating a microwave oven: Another sure sign of trouble is when your new online friend professes his love for you in a day or two. Also be wary if someone:

1. demands that you keep the relationship secret;

2. claims that it was destiny, fate or God that brought you together;

3. immediately requests your address, claiming they want to send you flowers, candy, etc;

4. asks for your bank account information or requests that you open an account for them in your name;

5. sends you a fake check or money order and ask you to cash it and wire them the money. (Many scammers also send several money orders, in amounts less than $1,000, to their victims);

6. asks you to cover their plane fare or sponsor their VISA so he or she can enter the country legally;

7. asks you for a small loan to get them out of a jam; or

8. asks you to receive and reship merchandise for them.