True stories of internet dating

Two sharp blows that had left her alone in her late 50s. His cancer took him swiftly, before she had time to process what was happening.

It had been over two years since the death of her husband of 20 years; four, since she had lost her mother.

Web-based dating services first popped up in the mid-1990s and are now a billion industry.

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But as financial crimes go, the love con was a rare breed, too time- and labor-intensive to carry out in large numbers.

It could take months or years of dedicated persuasion to pull off a single sting. Technology has streamlined communication, given scammers powerful new tools of deceit and opened up a vast pool of potential victims.

Amy was charmed — Duane was nothing like the local men she'd met so far.

"You certainly have a great sense of humor and a way with words," she responded.

The picture — outdoor photo, big smile — was real, and recent.

And her pitch was straightforward: Looking for a life partner …

Now she was all by herself in a house secluded at the end of a long gravel driveway. At first, she just tiptoed around the many dating sites, window-shopping in this peculiar new marketplace. It wasn't until the fall that Amy was ready to dive in.

Later, when she puzzled over their relationship, she'd remember this. That had been a fateful move; it made everything easier for him. After the funeral, a grief counselor told her to make no sudden changes in her life for at least a year, and she followed that advice.

This seemed to be one of the problems with online dating.

She resolved to be pickier, only contacting men who were closely matched — 90 percent or more, as determined by the algorithm pulling the strings behind her online search. Back in college, she'd studied computer science and psychology, and she considered herself pretty tech-savvy.

But much of the note consisted of flirty jokes ("If I could be bottled I would be called 'eau de enigma' ") and a detailed imaginary description of their first meeting: It's 11 am when we arrive at the restaurant for brunch.

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