Online dating sites provide a new way to meet but also a new arena for online criminals. They convince their victims they've fallen in love with them, and then move in to take their money.
San Jose resident Lori Satterfield thought she'd met the man of her dreams on Match.com.
"My dear sweet Lori, I miss you and want to be with you and hold you...I want to hold your hand across the table at a restaurant," Satterfield read from an email from a man who said his name was Sam.
Sam wrote long letters professing his love, emailing photos showing a strapping young man. We blurred the faces in the profile photos because there's no way of knowing who they really depict.
"Oh yeah, there was definite romance, we talked on the phone every day," Satterfield said.
Sam said he was overseas on business but couldn't wait to meet her. Then came an odd request.
"He wanted to deposit his paycheck into my bank account and then have me send him the money," Satterfield said.
Sam said funds had been frozen so he needed her help. Satterfield declined, but Sam kept love letters flowing, and Satterfield was swept up in romance.
"I want you to know how beautiful you are in my eyes. I want you to know how much I cherish and adore you," read an email from Sam.
Weeks later, Sam asked for a birthday gift. Satterfield sent him a $50 iTunes gift card. Then, he needed money.
"$50,000; cash advance on $50,000," Satterfield said. "Seriously?"
Satterfield said she couldn't afford it. After that, love letters stopped. Satterfield realized the man of her dreams was really a con artist.
"I did go through being angry and then depressed, even though it was fake," Satterfield said.
Luckily, all Satterfield lost was the gift card. A Contra Costa County woman who asked ABC7 News not to use her real name was not so lucky.
"She said all the right things a person would like to hear," 'Susan' said.
'Susan' lost a staggering $100,000 to a swindler on Match.com.
"You're human, you want to find love, so yeah, you ignore certain signs," 'Susan' said.
'Susan' was hoping to meet another woman on the site. A member named Veronica emailed her, sent photos and wrote long love poems.
"You are an amazing sparkling person and without you I don't know whether I'm alive," one said.
'Susan' thought this was a lifelong companion. Then, Veronica said she had to go to Nigeria to sell a family farm. She needed cash for repairs.
"She goes, 'Well I need $800,' I said OK, I said, 'Well I could loan you the money,'" 'Susan' said.
'Susan' wired $800, but it didn't stop there.
"She had to pay property taxes and stuff so it kept escalating to more and more," 'Susan' said.
'Susan' wired money, again and again, plunging $100,000 into debt. She believed Veronica's promises to pay it back and that they would be together someday. Then, the cold reality. When 'Susan' went to finally meet Veronica in person at San Francisco International Airport no one showed up.
"I was very naive and it turned my life upside down," 'Susan' said.
Match.com says cons are rare and millions of singles have found true love on the site. The company is up front with saying it does not do criminal background checks, saying it won't stop thieves.
Match said in a statement, "While only a small number of our millions of subscribers have been scammed by the sophisticated criminals who prey on individuals in every corner of the web, we take this issue very seriously and we diligently address it on the site, tracking, monitoring and preventing fraud at every step of the way. It is also very important that people exercise common sense and prudence with individuals they have just met, whether through online dating or any other means."
"The biggest red flag with the sorts of dating scams that we're seeing is they're very quick to say they've fallen in love with you," FBI spokesperson Julie Sohn said.
The FBI investigates Internet crimes like online dating fraud.
"They target people who are seniors, they target people who are lonely," Sohn said.
How can you spot an online dating fraud?
- They profess love after a very short time.
- They claim they can't meet you in person because they're traveling or are overseas.
- They ask you to go off the dating site right away and use "personal email." That's to avoid detection.
- They also fabricate a profile. Photos aren't really theirs.
- Predators will eventually ask for money. Don't give anyone cash or personal information.
And, Satterfield says, protect your heart too.
"It was a really great couple of months with an unfortunate end," Satterfield said.
Match.com says customers should report any member who asks for money or puts a fraudulent profile online that violates the company's rules and it will boot those users off the site.