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Consumer Alert: Woman shares her online dating scam story to warn others

A woman shares her online dating scam story. (WJLA photo)

CINCINNATI (Scripps) - More than one third of all couples now meet online, many of them on dating websites.

If you're single and looking for a partner, or recently divorced, an online dating site can be the answer to your prayers. But these cyber dating sites come with a risk.

One woman just shared her story to warn others how easy it is to fall for them.

She's a 9 to 5 office worker. He was a handsome U.S. serviceman. And it looked as though it could blossom into the romance of her life.

"He told me he was from New York," Kathy said," and he was stationed in Kabul, and he had a 16-year-old son and was looking for the love of his life because his wife had passed away several years ago."

Kathy, who asked that her last name not be used, found "James," a strapping 50-something Army sergeant, on a dating site.

"I received an email that said "hey, you look interesting, I want to meet you."

Soon, she says their conversations over books and wine turned into declarations of love. Within weeks, his messages said "I pledge my heart" and "all of my love."

"I was the love of his life, and he knew that God had sent me into his life for a reason."

But just as he was about to visit her during leave, a snag developed: He needed some money.

"He sent me a list that totaled $300, for things he needed. And I said I'm not sending that, I can't afford that. And he responded by asking 'then how much can you afford?'"

Kathy got suspicious. After all, she had never met him in person, and he wanted, he really wanted, money.

"I asked him repeatedly to verify his name, his rank, and his serial number. And he said because of the job he's doing in Kabul he couldn't release that information."

At that point, even more suspicious, she started looking online, and found her "James" showing up all over dating sites as a "Ricky James, "William James, "James Stewart" and others.

According to the Armed Services newspaper "Stars and Stripes," scammers in Africa stole the photo from a real soldier's social media pages. "James," unwittingly, is now one of the photos used most often by scammers online.

"Stars and Stripes" warns romance scammers have even impersonated the commander of U.S. forces in Korea , General Scaparrotti. They once impersonated the head of forces in Iraq.

The red flags of a romance scam?
* The person is a soldier or American businessman traveling outside the US.
* There's always a reason they can't meet in person.
* They will profess their love for you very quickly, almost too quickly.
* Before you meet, there is always a snag, and they always end up needing money.

Some women have drained their bank accounts, wiring hundreds and hundreds of dollars to these scammers, in the desperate hope it is who they dream it is.

Kathy just wants to warn other women, so their hearts and dreams don't get broken by someone who sweeps them off their feet.

"Beware of anyone who says they are in love with you immediately," she said.

Before you join any online dating site, check out two websites that will give you warning signs and even photos of the top romance scammers. One is RomanceScam.com the other RomanceScams.org.

Bottom line: don't fall in love with someone you've never met, so you don't waste your money.

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