LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- The surge in online dating also holds an important warning: Be wary of con artists, and certainly be cautious before any money is exchanged. In this Rip-Off Alert, you'll find it is very easy to be deceived.
"Initially, it started out as a friendship,” said Mary, a fraud victim. “He would tell me about himself. I would tell him about myself."
Mary is talking about the online relationship she started with a man on a social networking site. He said he was stuck in Nigeria and asked her to help him by sending him money to fly home.
"It started out pretty small the money that he needed, and it just escalated,” she said.
But there always seemed to be an excuse as to why he never returned and always needed more money.
"Initially, it was my own money, then I had to take out loans to help him,” Mary said. “And it just snowballed from there."
Since Mary was now out of money herself, her online connection had a new idea for how they could make some cash. It started with fraudulent credit cards the suspect sent to Mary.
"She would then take these credit cards and make purchases here at local retail stores, take those fraudulent items to a pawn shop and get cash for that purchase," said U.S. Postal Inspector Joshua Bergeron.
Mary then wired the money back to the suspect in Nigeria, sometimes thousands of dollars at a time. Total: More than $200,000.
"I had myself fooled thinking everything was OK,” Mary said.
Postal inspectors say scams like these are growing as online dating sites increase in popularity. Con men prey on people seeking relationships or companionship and end up manipulating and robbing victims.
"I guess I was very gullible and easily convinced and I'd been in such a bad situation myself that he promised me so much, that none of it has come true," Mary said.
Mary is now trying to rebuild.
"Right now, I work two jobs to try and get myself back on my feet,” she said. “It's going to take quite a while; it's going to take a long time."
Mary pleaded guilty for her role in this scam and says she will think twice before starting any relationships online.