In a week when the number-one “consumer rights” issue is the TSA’s groping and assault of air travelers, the nation’s premiere “consumer protection” agency is squarely focused on — warning people about the perils of online dating:
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, warns that scammers sometimes use online dating and social networking sites to try to convince people to send money in the name of love. In a typical scenario, the scam artist creates a fake profile, gains the trust of an online love interest, and then asks that person to wire money—usually to a location outside the United States.
Here are some warning signs that someone you met online could be in it for the money:
- Wanting to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
- Claiming instant feelings of love.
- Claiming to be from the United States but currently overseas.
- Planning to visit, but being unable to do so because of a tragic event.
- Asking for money to pay for travel, visas or other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative’s hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
- Making multiple requests for more money.
The FTC warns consumers that wiring money to someone they haven’t met is the same as sending cash. Once it’s gone, it can’t be recovered.
That last part kills me. The FTC is warning you about something that the agency admits it really can’t do anything about. At least for now. I could see a whole host of new regulations designed to punish people who falsely “claim instant feelings of love” to get their hands on your money. The Bureau of Consumer Protection could establish an entire “jilted lovers” division.
If there’s a serious point to be made here, it’s that “security theater” isn’t limited to the TSA and air travel. Anytime the government claims to be “protecting” you from something, it’s a scam. The FTC spends millions of dollars and employs thousands of people — to tell you not to believe some anonymous weirdo in an online chat room is really in love with you? If you’re the type of person who needs that sort of “protection” from the government, then you have a lot more to worry about than a failed online romance.