The Full Lowdown on International Dating

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International dating can be an exciting adventure. It can also lead to heartbreak. Knowing what you're looking for and watching out for scams is important. Even if the love is real, it's still vital to follow some safety tips before buying that plane ticket.

International Dating Scams

There are many web sites that promise international dating with interesting, sophisticated people (usually women) from faraway places. Even on sites that let you search for local dates, it's not uncommon to get a message from someone who lives thousands of miles away. It can be tempting to explore an international romance. Perhaps you've seen an especially appealing picture or profile. Maybe you're curious about the person's country or culture. People certainly have found true love with online matches from far away. Before you write, be aware of these international dating scams.

The Money-Seeker

It's usually a beautiful woman, often from a developing country. After you've exchanged a few messages, she begins to spin a story of illness in her family or a disaster on her farm. Maybe the ox that pulls the plow has died. She just needs a few dollars, or a few hundred. In the glow of a new romance, you think you'll be the savior who helps her out. Except that you're not the only savior. Women in some regions make money scamming wealthier men. There might be four or five other people sending cash for her sister's operation and she doesn't even have a sister.

Men have used similar scams to trick online daters out of their money. One man had his online girlfriend cash money orders for him. The money orders turned out to be fraudulent and her bank held her responsible.

The Identity Thief

E-mail "phishing" schemes use official-looking messages to trick you into revealing your social security number, bank account number, and other important personal and financial information. Dating exchanges are another way for dishonest people to get your data.

If an online friend offers you a stock tip, a business investment, or any other route to easy money, be suspicious. Would you trust a stranger with your money? If not, why would you trust someone you've only met online? The person behind the picture might not even be who you think.

The Mail Order Bride

A "mail order bride" is supposedly a beautiful young woman from a poor country, who is willing to marry an American or European man in exchange for citizenship and a chance at a better life. Web sites promise to introduce users to friendly, sexy women from Russia, the Ukraine, Southeast Asia, or other faraway places. Closer inspection on some of these sites reveals that the pictures are stock photos from modeling agencies. Be wary of professional-looking shots. If you see the same glamorous picture on several sites, be suspicious. In some cases, these lovely girls have nothing to do with the web site at all. The people behind the site, often men, just use the pictures to lure lonely daters. Once they've reeled you in, they'll begin the seduction-by-email that leads to a request for money.

To learn more about these scams, visit the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

When It's Real

The good news is that international dating doesn't have to be a scam. People really have found true love over the miles. If you think your relationship might have a chance, here are some tips to keep you sane and safe while you explore the possibilities.

Online Romance

If you met online, you'll need to bring the relationship into your "real life" if you want true love to grow.

  • Don't wait too long to meet in person. People often aren't what they seem online.
  • Be safe. Meet in public, tell a friend where you're going, and arrange a time to check in after the date. If you're traveling to a foreign country, book a hotel. Don't plan to stay with your online friend, and don't let them stay with you. If anything doesn't seem right, consider canceling the meeting.
  • Have a "Plan B." If you're traveling to meet someone, bring along a guidebook and plan some sightseeing. That way, if the date doesn't work out, you'll still have a good trip.

Real-Life Love

As your international relationship deepens, you'll find new challenges.

  • Keep your eyes open. Scammers have been known to carry on their tricks even after real-life meetings.
  • Stay in touch. Make sure each of you knows what's going on in the other's life.
  • Live your life. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also makes it easy for people to cheat or simply to lose interest. Keep your local support network and don't let your social life slide.
  • Know where it's going. Is one of you willing to move? How will you deal with language problems and cultural differences? When will you be together? Make sure that the long-distance stage won't drag on forever.
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The Full Lowdown on International Dating