One Northeast Ohio woman who was duped has used her experience to help others avoid the same fate.
"He seemed like everything I was looking for," said Theresa Smalley of Middlefield.
On one website, Theresa met a man named Richie. Richie said he was a Massachusetts contractor working in Nigeria.
"After several weeks, I found myself really thinking of myself having a future with this man," said Smalley.
Richie sent her a teddy bear and said he was looking forward to meeting her. And there was more.
"He said that his boss paid him with U.S. Postal Money Orders and that the banks in Nigeria didn't deal in American currency, so he asked me if he could send me three of his paychecks to cash at my bank and Western Union him the money."
She did--about $2800 worth. Then came bad news.
"The bank called me and told me the postal orders were phony and I was responsible for paying them back."
Richie vanished. Scams like this have prompted the FBI to make cyber crime its third highest priority behind terrorism and foreign counterintelligence.
"We still on a daily basis get reports of people scammed on the Internet," said agent Scott Wilson.
Theresa has started her own war on cyber crime, helping set up a web site to warn others of romance scams, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/romancescams
"Over the last year we've had over 4500 victims of online romance scams," Smalley said.
Many have lost money.
"Total, it's close to two and a half million dollars."
Theresa had to file for bankruptcy.
The FBI’s Wilson warns, "Certainly if they say they're going to send you some sort of check or money order and ask you to wire cash, please don't do it." The FBI has a website for those who have been scammed on the Internet or suspect a scam, http://www.ic3.gov
Theresa hopes her message will help others.
“If you have internal alarms going off that says something is too good to be true, please check it out."