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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 09:35 GMT
The perils of love in cyberspace
By Paul Burnell
BBC Real Story

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Increasing numbers of people are logging on for love
It is said some marriages are made in heaven but an increasing number of us are turning to the internet.

According to the online dating industry, an average of 3.9 million people a month log on for love.

But how can you tell if your cyber Prince Charming is really a scammer?

Or what if you find the person you swap e-mails with is really wanting to bypass your heart for your credit card?

Jane Hope was left with more than a broken heart and bruised ego by one cyber lover.

After a few web dates which led to nothing, the mother-of-three thought she had met a genuine caring and honest man in Peter.

As the relationship developed Jane, who had just lost her job, was asked if she wanted to invest 30,000 in his online mobile phone business.

"He made it sound as if it was very safe," she told BBC One's Real Story.

Jane Hope
Obviously people who on the internet are vulnerable because they are looking for a relationship
Jane Hope

"He had all the trappings of being successful, he had a nice house, a nice car, he dressed well.

"I checked whether he'd got any county court judgements or any criminal convictions and no, he hadn't, so I felt safe."

But she got suspicious when most of the loaned money disappeared in a series of cash withdrawals.

Peter told her he was visiting family in Jamaica but she noticed he had made transactions in Spain.

Jane even borrowed money to pay the company's mounting bills.

Eventually, despite Peter's promises to pay back the money, she sought legal help.

Peter was jailed last year for obtaining property by deception, but the business was put in Jane's name and she is liable for more than 45,000 of its debts.

"The way he went about it was very planned... it wouldn't surprise me if finding somebody on the internet was also planned.

"Obviously people who are on the internet are vulnerable because they are looking for a relationship. For someone on the look-out for a victim it's a perfect breeding ground," she said.

Happily Jane is now due to marry a man she met on another internet dating site.

But for June, from the south-east of England, there was no happy ending.

She thought she had clicked with a man called Mark from Canada.

He sent photos and told her he was a widower looking for a new mother to help raise his two children.

Textbook scam

"He said that he had shown my online picture to his children who said 'she looks really nice and we would like to meet her'," said June.

She admits she was falling in love with a man she had never met.

It was then that she fell for a textbook online scam.

June said she was told by Mark that his factory in Nigeria needed to money pay suppliers.

He asked her to open an account in her name and promised to pay money into it which she should withdraw and wire to him.

She did this with a sum of money - including 2,000 of her own cash - only to find the account had been closed.

I've even blown them out just by seeing the decor in their rooms on a webcam
Elaine Edwards

'Mark' had never existed.

The man who used the alias had never lived in Canada and was probably based in Nigeria, she said.

"He used my soft side to get the better of me and that makes me angry and really hurt," said June.

Elaine Edwards, from Farnborough, Hants, started online dating because she lived in an area where everybody knew each other.

But even net dating enthusiast Elaine, who went on 43 cyber dates last year, has experienced the darker side of web romance.

"This guy seemed quite normal at first but he turned into a stalker.

"The police said they couldn't do anything unless he threatened to kill me but I've since found out off a policeman I dated that they were wrong."

Her advice to dating online is to engage in general chit-chat.

"Ask them what they did at work or after work and you can soon get a feel if things don't add up. I always arrange to meet somewhere neutral."

Another precaution is to ask them to install a webcam.

"I've even blown them out just by seeing the decor in their rooms."

Real Story: Logging on for love will be shown on BBC One at 19.30 on Wednesday 14 February 2007.

SEE ALSO
Love on the web
02 Feb 06 |  Business
Warning over online dating scams
14 Feb 07 |  Business
Is web romance breaking marriages?
07 Sep 04 |  Have Your Say
Internet romance: What you think
29 Jun 98 |  UK News

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