Just about everybody likes scams--that is, when they happen to others and the perpetrator gets caught, or at least doesn't get away with it.
Lessons can be learned. With the popularization of the Internet has come the proliferation of Internet scams. Here's one in which I was the target.
In between relationships, I noticed as one of my "matches" on the online dating site POF (Plenty of Fish) a compatible-looking woman in a location near me. POF (www.pof.com) is the country's largest free dating site, competing through online ads with better known pay sites such as Match.com and eHarmony.
This woman’s profile was literate and offbeat, which I liked. I sent a friendly message through POF, and "Kathy" gave me her Yahoo email address. Off to the races. What could I lose?
Kathy stressed the importance to her of getting to know another person before meeting in person, and I agreed. I asked her the meaning behind "independentpink," the online name she chose for herself.
She responded with a long list of what she looks for in a man and her favorite activities, all elaborations of what she had written on her POF profile. I just wrote off her not answering my question to her wanting to exert some control of the process.
I responded with what I look for and my activities. When I asked how she liked living in her town, she said she was currently on a business trip in Benin, West Africa. She explained that she was from Italy and after recently moving to the US had partnered with a woman in Benin through whom she imported interior design goods.
I said that she was even more interesting to me now than originally. But when I went back to POF to look at her profile again, it was gone. Another red flag. I asked her about this.
She said she was new to POF and didn't know why her profile disappeared, but she emailed me more photos of herself. She also told me that both of her parents were deceased, she recently had a bad breakup with a boyfriend, and she really didn't want to get hurt again. She was pulling the right emotional strings, or trying to.
I told her about my relationship ups and downs, and she responded with her first endearment, calling me "sweetie," and her first poetry. Despite some wariness, I decided to go with it. Her poetry was good.
I did my attempt at witty repartee. When she asked me at one point how my night was, I said it would have been better if I had seen her. She continued with her poetry and continued divulging more about herself, including her struggles with her credit card balance. She asked if I was a "supportive man," and she said she sometimes wished that someone would just come along and rescue her. Yep, another red flag.
I decided to play this out to see where it would go. So I said, yes, I felt I was supportive but like the Julia Roberts character in the film Pretty Woman believed the best way to be rescued is to rescue someone yourself.
What followed was more poetry and endearments and increasingly personal things she said she liked. Her third-to-last email to me included very attractive photos.
Her second-to-last email was an entreaty that her financial situation was becoming dire, and was there any way I could wire her some money via Western Union so she could pay her bills, including her Internet bill, to enable her to continue communicating with me. I asked how much and how. It was $250--and to an address in Nigeria! This is a hotspot of Internet scamming.
After I didn't respond, her last email was that she was worried about me and wanted me to send her my address so she could mail me a gift after she received the money from me. I didn't respond to that either.
Only then did I Google her poetry. It was all filched from the web. I also discovered that some of the language she used in her endearments is listed as a warning on the website Pig Busters (www.pigbusters.net), which outs online scammers. The photos "she" emailed me were no doubt filched too.
If I had wired the money, I'm sure the next request would have been to wire a large sum of money for a plane ticket, which would, of course, never have been purchased.
In the end, this Nigerian scammer got nothing from me--but I got a lesson to share.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.