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2nd Story

Online romances may offer danger rather than love

Some people, trying to find their soul mate on the Internet, have discovered machetes, fraud and sexual predators instead of romance. A number of incidents over the past few months demonstrate caution is necessary when looking for love online.

In July, a 56-year-old Australian man was excited to visit Mali, a West African nation, to finally meet in person the love of his life who he met online. Instead of being greeted by his bride-to-be and her promised gold bar dowry worth $85,000, he was met by a gang of armed bandits, according to an Aug. 13, 2007 Associated Press story.

They held Des Gregor, a wheat and sheep farmer, hostage for 12 days. The thieves stole the cash and credit cards he had on him and asked for $85,000, threatening to cut off his limbs with a machete if he did not pay up. Australian and Mali police teamed up to thwart the kidnappers by catching them at the Canadian Embassy when they went to collect their ransom.

A Charlotte, N.C. woman was also bilked out of her hard-earned money by her Internet sweetheart. They hit it off and soon were instant messaging for hours a day about "everything", the woman known as "Susan" said in a July 23, 2007 story on the WCNC TV website. About two weeks into the relationship he said he had been robbed and that his passport and wallet were stolen. He asked for $1,200 and Susan quickly sent it off to her supposed lover. Soon he was asking for more money and she kept sending it to him. Susan did not say how much she gave him in total. He allegedly booked a ticket to visit her, but he never showed up.

"It's really going to be hard for me to really trust someone again," Susan said.

Single parents looking for love - beware! Dating the wrong person can be dangerous for our children. Convicted sex offender Michael Bradley, 51, of Mastic Beach in New York State was caught in a sting operation emailing someone he thought was a single mom with two young sons, according to a July 18 New York Daily News story.

After hearing via anonymous emails that a convicted sex offender in New York was using the popular Match.com service, child advocacy group Parents for Megan's Law set up a fake profile. Bradley soon showed interest in the "mom" who stated her sons were 7 and 12. Five years ago Bradley had been convicted of sodomizing a 15-year-old boy.

While Bradley is allowed to use computers, his court order states he cannot seek romantic relationships online. As a result of his recent actions, his computer was confiscated and he faces the possibility of his parole being revoked, according to a July 21, 2007 Online Dating Magazine story.

In Colorado, another convicted sexual predator was found to be using Match.com. Scott Bryan, 46, was convicted in 2003 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old developmentally disabled girl. He had posted a profile - including a shirtless photo of himself - on the site. His three-year prison sentence was completed in January. As he is not on parole, the police cannot stop him from using the site.

"It is absolutely legal," said Julie Brooks, a Boulder police spokeswoman. "It's not something we like to see, but absolutely legal."

Authorities and Online Dating Magazine are warning single parents to use caution when sharing information with would-be suitors.

"The best protection is to use your head in matters of the heart," Dr. James Houran, an Online Dating magazine columnist and spokesman said in a July 21 website story. "Do not get so caught up in the excitement of online dating that you are not constantly alert - instead assume everyone online is a potential predator."

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