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At the FBI, one Cyber Division section chief, Tim Gallagher, says most scammers operate from abroad, especially West Africa and the former Soviet republics.In a typical scenario, the scammer creates a fake profile using photos of an attractive individual, in many cases lifted off social-networking sites.

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He told me he is a great cook (perfect), loves the beach (ditto) and tries to work out but isn't always consistent (Hello, soul mate! I know many people on dating websites tell little white lies—putting a positive spin on their age, weight, income or the reason their last relationship broke up.

But I've been surprised to discover that some profiles are fakes, created by scammers looking to defraud individuals. EHarmony spokesman Paul Breton says the company tries to educate members about safety, and a full-time team reviews profiles using technology and their instincts. Psychologists blame what they call the "halo effect." It's what happens when we notice something we like about a person—often it's physical beauty—and then start imagining other positive qualities.

In many cases they are able to take in sophisticated victims, people who would never fall for one of those emails from Nigeria telling you how to claim your inheritance. After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend last year, the Washington, D. Almost immediately, the woman's profile disappeared from the site. Samuels couldn't reach her when he tried to write or call. It's the reason good-looking people often are paid more than average-looking people, and it happens all the time in online dating.

His profile said he was a widower and a veterinarian who travels, reads poetry and loves to shop.

He was adorable, with big hazel eyes and salt-and-pepper hair.

Many of the profiles on dating sites are scams, fake profiles people put up as a tool to get to know people they then trick into giving them money.

Elizabeth Bernstein explains how the scams operate, and a few people's stories of being tricked.

C.-based senior manager at an import-export company says he decided to try his chances on dating site e Harmony. We see an attractive person, or read an interesting profile, and soon we are projecting onto that person who we are looking for, letting our guard down, ignoring red flags. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it gets thousands of complaints a year from people who have been fleeced by people they met on dating sites.

Before long, he connected with a woman he says looked like a model. The online dating industry says scammers represent a small fraction of all profiles.

She said she was 28 and worked for a British travel company. Samuels and the woman chatted on email and occasionally on the phone or Skype, discussing their families, jobs and interests. Then one day, she wrote and said her mother was very sick and she was trying to raise money to pay the hospital bill. "But scammers are aggressive," says Mark Brooks, an industry consultant who has worked with Cupid and Plentyof Fish.

"I was very flattered that a younger, attractive woman started paying me attention," recalls Mr. A lawsuit filed in December seeking class-action status in U. District Court in Dallas alleges that more than half the profiles on are "inactive, fake or fraudulent." Responding to questions about the lawsuit, president Mandy Ginsberg said the site has 1.9 million paid subscribers, fraud happens to very few of them and a full-time fraud-prevention team works to identify and block fake profiles.

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