Dating websites and apps typically see a surge in activity this time of year as people who felt lonely over the holidays try to follow through on New Year's resolutions to find someone special with whom to share their life, or maybe just someone agreeable to share their bed on a cold winter's night.
Victims are as likely to be men and women, young, old or middle-aged, gay or straight, highly or poorly educated.
After a few days, weeks or even months of romantic and sometimes hotly erotic back-andforth via email, text or Skype, come the requests for money .
"It's common for victims to become money mules where they are unwittingly helping facilitate other crimes," Baker said.
In the latest twist, scammers coax victims into taking explicit photos and videos of themselves and then threaten to distribute them to their Facebook or Skype contacts if they don't pay them money or help them launder money .
Of course, people have alwa ys been fools for love -it's just hat the global reach and alte red reality of the internet incre ases the risk and can make the emotional and financial dama ge more severe.
"I don't think there is a gene ral understanding of how much of this romance scam stuff is out here, how it works and what the consequences are," said Steven Baker of the Federal Trade Com mission."It's staggering how ma ny people fall for it." Scammers typically create fa ke profiles on dating sites and apps like Match.com, Ok Cupid e Harmony , Grindr and Tinder using pictures of attractive men and women -often real people whose identities they've filched off Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites.This lures victims who swipe or click to begin corresponding.There are even reports of online recruiting of youths to join the Islamic State using romance and marriage as enticements.The FTC, FBI, homeland security, state department and US army criminal investigation command have reported an avalanche of complaints about scams in the past two years.Average financial losses are $5,000 to $10,000, but the FBI says many victims ha ve lost more than $400,000.