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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.

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.

Often, the written part of the profile is copied verbatim from a real profile or a recycled template. Once you are hooked, they hit you with some variation of several well-worn sob stories, Mr. Sometimes they say they live abroad and desperately want to visit you, but their country's banking system is broken. military service members trying to get back home and low on cash.

Almost always, it is designed to tug at the heartstrings, the FBI says. Or they're at the airport and their credit card has been declined. Their stories all end in same place: Please wire money, and they will pay you back.

I worked up the nerve to write him and was thrilled when he replied, saying he was flattered to receive my email. Imagine my heartbreak when I discovered he doesn't exist.

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.


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