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'Keep your money to yourself' But there is no returning money to consumers who have wired funds overseas, hoping to cement a love bond. They have the patience." Rhoda Cook has for years operated a Web site named which maintains a database of sweetheart con artists.Smalley said other would-be victims need to know about the perils of online matchmaking, and they need to listen to the little voices of hesitation and concern inside that she failed to heed. She's seen many varieties of romance scams, online and off.A new Yahoo group, "Romance Scams," was founded last month by Smalley and Barb Sluppick, who said she almost fell for a similar scam earlier this year.Among the hundreds of messages posted to the group are photographs of alleged scammers, links to potentially fraudulent online dating ads, and copies of come-on e-mails.Now they can get on the Internet and go across the world," Cook said."When you meet someone and you really want someone you just want to believe them." Her advice to daters is the same, online or off: "Enjoy the relationship, but keep your money to yourself," she said.Richie's picture showed a jolly, bearded man curled up on a couch with a cat rubbing his face.
By Valentine's Day, Smalley received a box of chocolate candy, a teddy bear, and a helium balloon that said "I love you." Smalley, 46, was hooked, even though she had never met him.
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"When you are meeting someone else on a Christian site, you think you are safe." No dating site is immune from scams, said Jason Tarlowe, who operates Match Doctor.com, where Smalley met Richie. Sometimes, the online suitors don't even ask before sending money orders.
They just send them, then guilt their targets into forwarding on the cash, Gregory said.
The group is trying to publicize the problem to limit the damage. Now, I get one every couple of weeks or so because it's the easiest way to get somebody hooked," Ferguson said. We don't want people to be taken in." But they are, said Donna Gregory, supervisory internet crime specialist at the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center. "We've even seen them take as long as a year (to seduce a mark)," Gregory said.