WKYT - The surge in online dating means many people are looking for love ... but being short-sighted about the risks of encountering con-artists in their search for a soulmate.
One victim of online dating fraud, Mary, said, "Initially it started out as a friendship. He would tell me about himself, I would tell him about myself."
She was speaking of the online relationship she started with a man on a social networking site. He said he was stuck in Nigeria, and asked her to help him by sending money to fly him home.
Mary said she initially was willing. "It started out pretty small, the money he needed -- and it just escalated."
But there always seemed to be an excuse as to why he never returned, and always needed more money.
"Initially, it was my own money," Mary said. "Then I had to take out loans to help him. And it just snowballed from there."
Since Mary was now out of money herself, her online connection had a new idea for how they could make some cash. It started with fraudulent credit cards the suspect sent to Mary.
A postal inspector described the problem. "She would then take these credit cards and make purchases here at local retail stores, then take those fraudulent items to a pawn shop and get cash for that purchase."
Mary then wired the money back to the suspect in Nigeria -- sometimes thousands of dollars at a time. Total: more than $200,000.
"I had myself fooled, thinking everything was okay," Mary said.
Postal inspectors say scams like these are growing as online dating sites increase in popularity. Con-men prey on people seeking relationships or companionship, and victims end up being manipulated and robbed.
"I guess I was very gullible and easily convinced," Mary said. "I'd been in such a bad situation myself that he promised me so much. None of it has come true."
Mary is now trying to rebuild.
"Right now, I work two jobs to try and get myself back on my feet. It's going to take quite a while; it's going to take a long time."
Mary pleaded guilty for her role in this scam, and says she will think twice before starting any more online relationships.