We've all heard of online dating scams that try to get you to send money to someone in Ghana or Nigeria. But now, the number of people falling for those scams is growing at an alarming rate.
New statistics analyzing the last six months of 2014 show more than 6,400 Americans say they were scammed after visiting online dating sites in the second half of the year. According to the FBI, that fraud cost users nearly $82 million. Many of those being targeted are senior citizens longing to get back in the dating pool.
"I got lonely and I spent a lot of time on the computer playing games, and I just happened to go to the date site," Janet Cook said.
When she went looking for love online, 17 years after losing her husband, she found someone on the very first day.
"I liked him, you know, because he said sweet things and he was very charming and had a kind of a gentle demeanor about him," Cook explained.
After four months of courtship, including e-mails and phone calls, but never meeting in person, the man who claimed to be a contractor from Virginia was suddenly stuck somewhere in Africa and in serious trouble.
"According to the story, he became very ill and he was in the hospital. He claimed to have had a kidney transplant. It was like $4,000 a month," Cook shared. "I was really worried about him. I thought the man was going to die."
The money started to add up and before Cook realized she was being swindled, the 76-year-old widow was out roughly $300,000.
"These are people who have worked so hard for their savings and now they are giving it all away to the romance scammers," Barbara Hannah Gufferman with the AARP said.
Her organization is now warning members that seniors are a prime target for online dating scams.
"The studies show that as you get older, your ability to decipher deceit declines," Gufferman noted. "That means as you get older, you have to be even more vigilant."
Aside from Social Security and a reverse mortgage check, Cook works part-time as a church secretary to supplement her modest income. She's now trying to recoup some of her lost savings from Match.com, the site where the scammer found her.
Match.com declined a request for an interview, but in a statement, the company said it takes scams very seriously, which includes monitoring and preventing fraud every step of the way. They also claim to use sophisticated technology to identify fraudulent behavior and prohibit users from countries where scammers operate.
The rate at which scams are happening is high, according to observers.
"Americans, over the last six months of 2014 amazingly enough, lost over $82 million," Gufferman answered.
While that is a lot of money, it may not be the true total, she said.
"That's what's been reported," Gufferman said. "There are a lot of people out there who are not reporting when they've been scammed because it's embarrassing."
AARP said the online scammers share common traits. To spot them, you can look for those who make frequent spelling errors, use a fake photo, profess love too soon, often claim to be working overseas and ultimately end up asking for money.
"You're online and you are looking to date and you see some of these red flags pop up. Get a second opinion and ask a friend, 'What do you think about this?'" Grufferman said.
But she's not saying it's impossible to find love online.
"I actually, personally, know quite a few people who have. You don't need to divulge everything about yourself until you've gotten to know that a little bit more," Grufferman said.
Despite being badly burned, Cook hasn't given up her search for a companion online. She's just a lot more savvy now.
"I wouldn't trust anybody on it without doing some kind of background checking and making sure that they are legitimate," Cook said. "We're all vulnerable in right situation and the time was just right for me."
Copyright 2015 WOIO. All rights reserved.