AT first, the constant attention seemed sweet and very special. Cook, a church secretary in the Tidewater, Va., area, had been a widow for a decade when she joined an Internet dating site and was quickly overcome by a rush of emails, phone calls and plans for a face-to-face visit.“I’m not stupid, but I was totally naïve,” said Ms.Cook, now 76, who was swept off her feet starting in July 2011 by attention from a man who called himself Kelvin Wells and described himself as a middle-aged German businessman looking for someone “confident” and “outspoken” to travel with him to places like Italy, his “dream destination.”But very soon he began describing various troubles, including being hospitalized in Ghana, where he had gone on business, and asking Ms. In all, she sent him nearly 0,000, as he apparently followed a well-honed script that online criminals use to bilk members of dating sites out of tens of millions of dollars a year.The website lists red flags to look for to identify such predators, who urgently appeal to victims for money to cover financial setbacks like unexpected fines, money lost to robbery or unpaid wages. Davies, 62, of Conyers, Ga., lost a huge sum to a man who called himself Donald Leo Moore and claimed to be a chemical engineer working on a pipe refinery in Malaysia.
I felt like jumping off a cliff.”Law enforcement authorities say the swindlers follow a similar pattern.“They get the victim to trust them, then create a sense or urgency and prey on the trust they’ve created,” said David Farquhar of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s financial crimes section.The highest reported loss in the state was 3,000.Swindlers can gain access to the lovelorn by hacking into a dormant dating profile and altering such information as age, gender and occupation, according to Vermont investigators.Davies that he had been robbed by a man on a bicycle and asked her to send him money.“I debated for a long time, but I wanted to help him,” she said.“Then his project had a problem, and he needed ,000, and then immigration officials in Singapore stopped him on his way to visit me for Christmas, and he needed ,000.”“He even sent me his flight itinerary to Atlanta for Christmas.