"people meeting over the internet"

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InCase
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Dear InCase,

It all started a little before Thanksgiving. It seemed that every time I turned around I heard a story about people meeting over the internet. My mother, my hairdresser, my brother, my friends, everybody knew somebody who had found wonderful romances using the internet.

I decided to give it a try. After all, I figured, the pickings would probably be better. People using a computer were probably of higher incomes and intelligence, right? So I put a profile and a picture on a couple of internet singles sites. I was very pleased. I started getting responses almost immediately. Most seemed pretty nice, some were very weird and some were clearly non Americans who had trouble with English. A Russian guy even sent me his resume.

After about a week I received an introduction from an American working in Europe named Bob. He told me he had a Masters in international business from the University of United States, had played football all through college and was even drafted by the State Team and played for them until a severe knee injury during the third game. He both practiced and taught martial arts, had belts in several disciplines, played tennis, tournaments and even refereed sometimes. He also liked to skydive. He had a good job as VP Management position in the entertainment industry. To top it all off his father was a high ranking government official before he died when Bob was 19. Bob was expecting to be transferred back to the US this summer, which I liked because it gave me plenty of time to get to know him before agreeing to meet him.

When I asked why such a wonderful guy didn't have girls coming out of his ears he said he was shy and many girls had thought him kind of goofy looking. He did email me a picture and although I thought he was perfectly presentable, even kind of cute, I could see how some girls might think he looked a little goofy. He sent me a list of about 20 questions asking about my history, likes and dislikes, and future goals. I took this as very responsible behavior, finally a guy who cared enough to be picky. It looked like we had a lot in common and I was willing to pursue the idea of a relationship. We started writing several times a week. About 3 or 4 weeks into the relationship he ended an email with "I love you". That sent up a red flag. I questioned him about it and he apologized saying he just meant it in a friendly way to end the message. I took him at his word and we continued writing.

About a week later he was asking to speak to me on the phone and gave me his address and phone number in Europe. I didn't feel comfortable giving him my home number so I agreed that he could call me at my hotel room during a business trip. We talked for 2 or 3 hours and I really liked him. He was smart and witty and charming. The only thing I wondered about was his European accent, he was supposed to be American after all. When I asked him about it he said that he was actually born in Europe. His father was stationed at a high-profile location in Europe and had married a European woman.

When Bob was 2 his father was transferred back to the US but his mother didn't want to give up her career as an educational professional at a university and they ended up getting divorced. When Bob was 10 he asked his mother to let him live in the States with his father. Hence his first language was European and since he's been speaking nothing but the European language for the last two years he had re-acquired a European accent. He said when he was home in the US he lost the accent almost immediately. I bought it. During that first phone call he brought up the idea of me going to Europe to meet him, which I thought very premature, but frankly, I rather liked the idea of a spring trip to Europe, so I said I would think about it, especially since I have relatives living there.

We continued to write constantly and talked on the phone about once a week. We decided that I should call him since he told me that to call the US from Europe was $3 per minute while for me to call Europe was only 35c per minute. He agreed to split the cost of the phone calls. This was my bright idea.

After about another month he started saying how he was developing strong feelings for me and would I please come to Europe to meet him. I told my family about him and, being concerned, advised me to ask him to prove who he was and what he had told me. I did, and Bob said he "had a problem with that". He gave me some lame excuse about a childhood trauma which causes him to get very defensive when asked to prove himself. This is where I started to get suspicious. I tried to trip him up in the stories he had told me but he was consistent in everything he said. The things he told me about his life were very detailed, not vague at all. Every time we talked he kept pressuring me about coming to Europe, at my expense.

I started trying to get proof in a roundabout manner, for instance, I asked him to send me pictures of him from football and he replied that there weren't any. I knew this had to be wrong, there are always pictures, if only for the school yearbook! Now I was pretty sure that something was very wrong. That's when my father told me about a news story he had seen which featured InCase. I called InCase and got them started on a little research. I'll never forget the email I got saying that they were unable to verify anything Bob had told me. There was no record of him ever attending the University of United States, and there was no record of his father's death. I was very disappointed but not really surprised. During our next chat session online I confronted Bob with what I had discovered.

He said I didn't find his school records because he was registered under a different name. His stepfather had adopted him and he now used that name out of respect since he was living in his house. Of course this also explained no death record for his father, different name. He said he was very disappointed and hurt that I had jumped to the conclusion that he was lying. I told him at this point that I would have to have some proof of who he was and he agreed to send it. I didn't hear from him for a few days, then he called me. This is where his story transcended from the merely suspicious to the truly ridiculous.

He had previously told me that his father had died of a heart attack. Now he said that his father had died in a hit-and-run auto accident and murder was suspected. The story was that his father had witnessed something between members of the Northern European Mafia and had testified against them in court. As a result the entire family was put into the witness protection program and relocated with new names. Of course I told him I found the story incredible at best and he would have to prove it. He said he had the paperwork but was afraid to send it in the mail. Nor could I do any checking under any of his other names as that might alert anyone "watching". He wanted to explain it all to me in person, and that if I could just "look into his eyes" I would see he was telling the truth. I told him that wouldn't fly, that he would have to send me something if I was to ever agree to meet him.

He said he would send me football pictures and whatever else he could get together which he felt wouldn't put him in jeopardy. Almost immediately his emails started getting sparser and nothing came in the mail even though he said he sent it. I finally got the phone bill, which as you remember he agreed to pay half of. Needless to say I haven't heard from him since emailing him the amount.

At this point I feel lucky to have escaped with the whole ordeal with having spent about $1000 between phone calls and investigations (mostly phone calls). I shudder to think what may have happened if I had actually made that journey to Europe.

Please, if you meet someone on the internet, check them out! There's a great computer cartoon to keep in mind. Two dogs are on a computer. One dog turns to the other and says, "On the internet no one knows you're a dog". InCase did a great job at a very reasonable price.

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