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It had been over two years since the death of her husband of 20 years; four, since she had lost her mother.She filled out a questionnaire and carefully crafted her profile.Just over a year ago, the Department of Justice announced that seven men—six from Nigeria and one from South Africa—had pleaded guilty to conning tens of millions of dollars from Americans via online dating sites.While the case was remarkable for its magnitude, when it comes to so-called “romance scams,” it still represents just the tip of the iceberg.This makes it hard for the victim to do due diligence.The scammer might say that an immediate family member has a medical emergency and needs money for treatment, or that he has been wrongly arrested and needs help with bail money and legal support.(The FBI says it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud scheme because of the personal relationships that are developed, so the real numbers are probably higher.) As one result, fear of a horrible first date is just one of the things a would-be online dater has to worry about. “Most people think the victims are middle-aged women who can’t get a date, but I have worked with men and women of all ages—doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry—who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do,” says Barb Sluppick, who runs Romance Scams, a watchdog site and online support group.

*Names have been changed to protect identities En español She wrote him first. In the summer, when the trees leafed out, you couldn't even see the road or the neighbors. She'd grown up here, in a conservative pocket of Virginia. When it came to meeting new people, however, her choices were limited. The holidays were coming, and she didn't want to face them alone.

And her pitch was straightforward: Looking for a life partner …

successful, spiritually minded, intelligent, good sense of humor, enjoys dancing and travelling. In those first weeks, she exchanged messages and a few calls with men, and even met some for coffee or lunch.

She resolved to be pickier, only contacting men who were closely matched — 90 percent or more, as determined by the algorithm pulling the strings behind her online search. Back in college, she'd studied computer science and psychology, and she considered herself pretty tech-savvy.

She had a website for her business, was on Facebook, carried a smartphone.

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