In this day and age of online dating, success stories can be commonplace, but where do you turn when that online connection leaves you scammed?
A new website wants to help.
RomanceScams.org is a free site and for 11 years now has over 20,000 active members. The founders know falling in love online can come at a price if you aren't careful.
They say predators know what to do and what to say to get you to open your wallet. They do it by getting you to open your heart.
A recent victim, in her 70s, is show ashamed she didn’t want WGN News to identify her. She was falling in love for the first time after her husband of 40 years died. And she was doing it online.
Her daughter tells WGN News the man swept her mother off her feet.
“He sent her poems. He sent her roses to the house, so he had my mom’s address. They had plans to get married.”
But then he told her, in his English accent, he was traveling abroad for work.
“There was an explosion at an oil rig,” the victim’s daughter explains. “He lost everything and needed help.”
He never got that help because the woman's bank flagged the transaction as fraud.
The scenario is not a shock to the founder of RomanceScams.org, a nonprofit trying to help men and women in love online when in reality, it's not legit.
The site is an aide to help if you think you are being scammed or a support if you've been duped.
"It’s not just about the money,” says site founder Barb Sluppick. “We're talking about people that are heartbroken. And we have had people on the brink of suicide."
The site tells you what to look for if you are being targeted: English accents, a gentleman caller in trouble overseas, webcams in your online relationship that never seem to work quite right. This love online can last weeks, months or even years until the victim turns over money some way, somehow.
So who falls for it? The Better Business Bureau says people likely to get scammed are not who you might think. 30% of people 25-34 have been scammed and 10% are 55 and older. That's because older people, the study reveals, tend to be more savvy.
And RomanceScams.org, website agrees everybody is fair game when it comes to romance. Scammers, largely in West Africa, are targeting men and women equally. Victims are typically 30 or older and have lost as little as $50. In one case, a victim lost over a million.
"I've got doctors, lawyers, CEOs, people you'd never dream of in a million years who are victims of these scams,” Sluppick says.
These international crimes are tough to take down and often are not. But in 2016, in Illinois, a South African man was brought before an East St. Louis judge and soon will be sentenced for lying to hundreds of women in the U.S. and scamming them out of cash, assets and their good name. He used fake photos, fraudulent names and posed as a retired soldier. He even resorted to blackmail.