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Internet romance: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is

online-datingThis past week I had legal consultations with 3 different women, all US citizens, who came in with questions regarding the fiancé petition process stating they had fallen in love with a foreign national they met online and now wanted to marry.  Demographically, these women had very little in common; they were from different social classes, different ethnic groups, and were from different age groups (one was in college, another was close to retirement).  But their stories were eerily similar when they described how quickly they fell in love via the internet, how quickly they were proposed to, and how quickly their new loves were in prompting them to start the fiancé petition process.  I realized after the 3rd consultation that I had repeated the catchphrase often used by the Better Business Bureau, “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” to all 3 of them.

I have done my fair share of K-1 nonimmigrant visas (also known as the fiancé/fiancée visa) and some of them have turned into what appears to be good marriages.  On the other hand, last year I started seeing a trend in how many clients were involved in internet dating and how many of them were suffering the consequences of not knowing their partner well enough before marrying, not knowing they were being scammed or not knowing they were entering into an abusive relationship.  I saw so many that I posted this blog.  More and more I am either getting phone calls or having meetings with women who have been chatting online with foreign national men (often with a big age different) and want to bring them to the US to get married. They are willing to throw caution to the wind mainly because they are tired of being single and are not only willing to sponsor them in getting a green card but are agreeing to pay the application fees.  Reflecting back on this week, I feel compelled to write yet again about internet dating and green cards and how this combination often results in marriage scams and broken hearts.  Not always, but often.

Internet romance and marriage fraud scams are so prevalent now that almost every US Embassy issues a warning similar to this …United States citizens should be alert to attempts at fraud by persons claiming to live in (insert name of country) who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet.”  Just a brief google search brings up warnings from several US embassies including those located in Algeria, Ghana, Russia, the Ukraine, France and Russia.  And some of those warnings included a similar adage to the one above, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”  It’s interesting being a legal practitioner – ethically it is within the scope of my daily work to provide someone with the steps needed to bring a fiancé/fiancée to the US.  But morally, I feel like I have an obligation to point out what the US embassies around the world have posted on their websites such as this pretty thorough warning from Algeria.  While this can come across as judgmental, I still feel like it is my moral obligation if the story I am hearing from the US citizen petitioner sounds too good to be true.

Looking back on these consultations, I feel empathy for these women because all 3 of them are strongly convinced they have found genuine love.  I hate to be the skeptic and the bearer of bad news but I feel it is my duty to give them a reality check and point out (like the embassies do) that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Even though I provided a link above to the Algerian Embassy where they gave the following advice, it’s worth highlighting here,  “Often, the marriages end in divorce in the United States when the foreign national acquires legal permanent residence (“green card”) or U.S. citizenship. In some cases, the new American or permanent resident then remarries a wife he divorced before, around the same time as entering into a relationship with a sponsoring American citizen.”  I have chosen to emphasize those two sentences because sadly, I have seen this exact same scenario play out in Ithaca so it’s advice worth paying attention to.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep