Online dating may or may not be a familiar world to you. We welcome an anonymous guest, to share their story and warnings of the world of online dating.
It’s my hope that by sharing my story others will not be hurt by cruel and heartless criminals looking to take advantage of us at our most vulnerable – when we’re looking for love.
From Russia with love?
I began using a dating website in 2009. After a few weeks, I was contacted by a woman living in Russia. Her name, so I was told, was Olga Ivanova.
Olga introduced herself as a 41-year-old single woman who’d never married or had a family, and she was certainly very attractive from her photographs. Olga told me that much of her time was taken up by her job – working as a doctor in the local hospital in Mojga, Russia.
After talking for a few weeks via the dating website we moved our conversation offline. It wasn’t long before photographs arrived in the post, with reasonably written letters detailing her family history. She was particularly close to her mother and grandparents, as her father had died when she was young.
These letters were a little off-putting with garish colour typefaces and an italicised font, not to mention the many grammatical errors, but as she wasn’t a native speaker I let it slip. Maybe perfectly written English would’ve aroused my suspicions?
Olga also sent photographs of her dressed as a surgeon in hospital with other staff, playing around in the snow and cuddling her cat. Then, a little later, I received a photograph of her passport – so all was looking quite legitimate. Although I never managed to establish an actual address – that question was always ignored.
But Olga’s letters constantly spoke of love. After several months of talking in this way she announced that she would be visiting England, and asked me to meet her at a London Airport.
I agreed and a week or so later she told me she was on her way. I was sent her arrival time and date together with flight number – all of which checked out.
But, the very next day I received a desperate email saying she was stuck at the border due to visa issues and was in urgent need of money to pay legal fees. Could I forward her £300 via Western Union?
I was hesitant to do so as I knew that transfers using Western Union are untraceable – the money is collected by the addressee and that will be the last you see of it. More pleading emails from Olga followed, and my promise to reimburse her when we met in London simply fell on deaf ears. Olga insisted she needed cash – now!
With a heavy heart I refused one last time and after a final – somewhat abusive – email I heard nothing more.
Spotting the scammers
Initially, I was quite upset things hadn’t worked out, despite the fact I’d started to suspect the situation. But after time, I found it far more annoying thinking about how much time I had wasted. I soon realised that I’d managed to avoid a potentially substantial loss of money – so I decided to investigate.
Olga had mentioned her location in Russia as Mojga. A quick google search revealed that this particular town was flush with the sham dating trade. I discovered this sham trade was run by well-organised criminal gangs of men. There was no Olga – it was a male con-artist, with whom I’d been unknowingly corresponding.
After making this discovery, the photographs I’d been sent intrigued me and I began running them through the website tineye.com, a website which uses recognition technology to see if pictures you upload match any elsewhere on the internet.
Two of the submitted photographs were in fact those of a well know Russian film star – hardly likely to be known in the UK. It appears that this is a common ploy. Remember also that tineye.com will only be able to match the given picture with those on record – so a lack of a match shouldn’t be considered conclusive proof.
My advice to you
Ultimately my experience has reinforced a valuable life lesson – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Genuine people have real addresses, and they don’t offer to lay down their lives for you if you’ve never met. They don’t tell you that you are handsome unless you have sent photographs.
Try to stay realistic. Never lose your heart to someone you haven’t met, and don’t be fooled by words that come easily. And, whatever you do, no matter how your emotions are affected, never ever send money to people you do not personally know.
This is an anonymous guest contribution. All opinions are the guest author’s own, and not necessarily those of Which?