ALBANY, OR-- Millions of Americans are currently looking for love online, but it's also become a mine field of fake profiles and scammers, preying on those with cash and an open heart.
"I met my last husband on a dating service. I just wanted somebody to spend some time with," said 55-year-old divorcee Laura Lakies.
She headed to the Internet for another chance at love. In just weeks, in walked 52-year-old "Kenneth."
"The profile was a perfect match," she said.
The relationship grew quickly as did the feelings and emails. An email in the morning, one at night.
"Kenneth" said he lived in Corvallis, a short drive from Lakies' Albany home but he was currently working on an off-shore oil rig in the Gulf.
"The story he gave me was cell phones were not allowed on the rig," she said.
And she bought it -- hook, line and sinker. It was a mistake she would repeat on a much larger scale later in their relationship.
For two months, Laura and Kenneth stuck to hours of instant chat. "It seemed like it was something that would work out."
Things were serious, she thought, and he promised he was coming home soon. There was just one more thing.
Lakies says he told her, "I hate to ask you this, but I need a loan."
First it was her whole savings - $1000. Then $2,000. Then, another $3,000.
"He kept on and on and on, 'If you don't help me, the whole dream is gone, it's dead, and it's your fault,'" Lakies told Newschannel 8.
But after over-drafting on her credit card, Laura had had enough.
"I said I don't think you are who you say you are and I never heard from him again."
She had been scammed, left with monstrous debt and a broken heart.
"The first response you get from people is how could you be so stupid. I went online to the romance scams website."
Former scam victim Barb Sluppick set up the site, www.romancescams.org.
It's been up for five years, and since then 58,000 people have come for help.
"You would not believe the people who are victims in this. I have doctors, I have lawyers , CEO's. We've had NFL players who are victims of this," Sluppick said.
"The scams work because they create a very very tight bond with their victim. There's a lot of psychology."
And for those who took a gamble on love and lost, it provides an online counseling group.
"The group really helps you with that. You're not stupid, you trusted when you shouldn't have. You can recover from it, you can move forward," Lakies added.
Lakies said there's red flags you should watch out for in a profile:
- They say they're a widower
- Chances are their spouse died of cancer
- They don't have any family
- Most important: they're overseas or out of the area on business
The website helped Laura track down "Kenneth" to Nigeria. She's still paying off that debt and now has a rule that she won't date someone online unless they can meet in person within the first two weeks.