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AARP is collecting signatures on an online petition calling on dating sites to take stronger steps to protect customers.
In Joanna's case, law enforcement did not contact her about an investigation after she reported the theft, and like the vast majority of victims, she never got any money back.
Within a week the man calling himself John had captured Joanna's heart with compliments, humor and declarations that she was the one.
A few months later John had to travel to Africa for business — a common ruse that signals the start of trouble.
Discontinuing contact may sound "obvious and simple, but it isn't always because they've fallen in love with this person," the AARP's Shadel said.
"And so the tragedy of this type of crime is that you not only lose money, but it breaks your heart." Spira, the dating guru, also advises taking the relationship offline fairly quickly via a face-to-face meeting in a public place. "And once you meet them, there might not be anything in common." Also, experts say, reluctance to meet can be another red flag.
She estimated that she lost a total of 5,000, which required her to take out loans.
Barb Sluppick, founder of the online support group Romancescams.org, which has 20,000 active members, said that one of the hardest things for victims to understand "is that there's no justice in these scams.". Federal officials acknowledge that many cases are not investigated, but they encourage people to report these crimes because the information helps them spot patterns and build cases against repeat offenders.
Meeting someone for the first time always requires caution, even after chatting with them online.An AARP study he co-authored last year found that Internet fraud victims had experienced significantly more negative life events in the previous two years than non-victims.