Reporters interview Xiao Fang at a Beijing court in March after she took the online dating website Baihe to court after a man who claimed to be the chairman of a listed company she met through the site turned out to be a married man from the countryside. Before she found out the man was a swindler, she had given birth to his child and given him around 100,000 yuan ($15,800). Photo: Xinhua
Do you want a safer environment on the Internet to seek "Mr Right" or "Miss Right"? Matchmaking websites said they have a new system to help you detect fraud.
Century Love, a well-known Chinese matchmaking website, has established a system in cooperation with police that helps find fake online information and fraudsters.
"We had an 'online police group' already, and the system, I believe, will promote our work on preventing user fraud," said Ma Xizhe, a senior manager of the website.
The system, which runs continuously, screens e-mails and investigates when a registered member of the website lodges a complaint, according to a statement from the company.
If a member uploads photos that are suspected of being fake, others who put similar pictures online will also be checked and traced, Ma said.
"The member will be deleted from our website if we confirm his or her information is untrue," she said. "In this way, many people who want to change an online account to defraud again will be detected easier."
The system was expensive and has helped avoid matchmaking fraud, Ma said, but she did not say how much money the company spent.
"We report to police in different areas across the country regularly, supplying them with clues and assisting them in their investigations," she said.
It is not a "must" to register with real identities on the website, so the better way to reduce clients' concerns should be to improve the website's technical system, she added.
Since 2012, the website has helped police find about 100 matchmaking frauds in China, while more than 20 cases are now being investigated, the company said.
The website also is warning its customers to be careful when dating strangers, the statement said.
The website highlighted several cheating scams, including entrapment and gang-related fraud, and also offers tips on how to distinguish cheaters from those who really want to seek a partner.
Some men pretend to be successful people who urgently want to establish a relationship with a woman, and they may also ask so-called relatives or even parents to call and send messages to their dating targets to gain their trust.
The number of cases of theft via matchmaking companies also has been rising in recent years.
Beginning in June 2011, a suspect named Zhang, with two men working for a matchmaking company in Beijing, employed several good-looking men to attract women and swindle them out of their money, according to a prosecutor from the capital's Chaoyang district.
"The suspects formed an organization to cheat, instead of using simple one-on-one fraud," said Zhang Kai, the prosecutor who handled the case.
"The handsome recruiters seized membership fees from the targets and asked for more money using various excuses," he said.
The fraudsters would eventually "break up" with the women by claiming they were going abroad or were ill, and also borrowed money from them in this way, he added.
About 50 women have been cheated, and the amount of money involved was more than 1 million yuan ($162,000), the prosecuting authority said, adding that the five suspects have been prosecuted.
Chao Xiaoyu, a prosecutor from Beijing's Dongcheng district, echoed Zhang Kai, saying similar cases also happened in their area and such fraud is hard to tackle.
In March 2012, a matchmaking company boss found out that her ex-husband, named Nie, had cheated one of the company's members named Li. Nie said he was a furniture company manager and won Li's trust after several dates.
The company got 4,000 yuan in "dating fees" from Li after telling her that Nie was satisfied with her and he guaranteed he would not meet other women, while later charging her another 12,000 yuan for finding her a "successful match", the prosecuting authority said.
The fraudsters mainly target divorced women 40 to 60 years old with economic security, Chao said, adding those who are older were eager to marry, but sometimes lack awareness to identify online cheaters.
"The cheaters' information online, in fact, was not verified by matchmaking websites, but most cheated women never paid attention," Zhang Kai added.
From 2008 to 2011, Beijing Fengtai district's prosecuting authority handled 26 cases of fraud involving matchmaking websites, and prosecutors say the number is rising.
Prosecutors in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, also dealt with about 70 matchmaking frauds last year, prosecuting more than 130 suspects, while Shanghai even established an alliance to provide customers with matchmaking services.
To avoid fake information, the Baihe dating website launched a real-name system last year, becoming the first matchmaking website to conduct identity verification in China.
Since 2007, in fact, the company started exploring how to prevent fraud, establishing a system to verify the identities of its members and linking online accounts with cellphone numbers.
Now, members must show their identity cards to website staff, but can still use their nicknames online, according to a company statement.
"If two members intend to date, we can help them share their real information," said Zhuan Yirong, vice-president of Baihe, adding that the real-identity system can be taken as an effective way to avoid matchmaking frauds.
However, Zhuan also said some of the provided information, such as members' marital status and their employment, is still uncertain because the information has not been shared among government authorities as well.
"We're happy to see our clients support the real-name system, and the complaint rate of seeking online friends without trust decreased 85 percent after the system took effect," she said.
The efforts on fraud prevention of these matchmaking websites is welcomed by Liu Xinrui, but she thought the best way to keep away from cheating lies with site users themselves.
"Face-to-face communication in society can be hard, let alone having a chat on the Internet," said the 25-year-old media worker. "It'll be more difficult to chat if two people cannot see each other.
"Untrue information online is not easily detected by some technical methods."
Li Chenguang, a 25-year-old at a Beijing telecom enterprise, said he will use his real identity to find his "Miss Right", but he is pessimistic about information that was verified only by an online company.
"Although websites provide many prevention tips, it is still a challenge for me to detect fake information," he said.
Zhu Yuchen, a 24-year-old Shanghai resident, agreed, adding: "No matter what efforts the websites make, matchmaking fraud will still exist. We have no idea how these websites verify clients' identity, and most of them are still interest-driven.
"After all, the purpose of websites is to earn money instead of taking responsibility," she said. "That's the main reason I will not seek my 'Mr Right' online."