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These criminals—who also troll social media sites and chat rooms in search of romantic victims—usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. While their most common targets are women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled, but every age group and demographic is at risk. You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you.

He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you.

Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate.

But as Valentine’s Day gets closer, the FBI wants to warn you that criminals use these sites, too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams..

Rapes related to online dating increased by nearly a factor of six -- from 33 in 2009 to 184 in 2014 -- according to a report released Monday by the UK's National Crime Agency.

That's a small fraction of the number of online encounters, to be sure.

We strongly recommend, however, that if you think you’ve been victimized by a dating scam or any other online scam, file a complaint with our Internet Crime Complaint Center (

Before forwarding the complaints to the appropriate agencies, IC3 collates and analyzes the data—looking for common threads that could link complaints together and help identify the culprits. Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of an online dating scam.

Attacks mostly were committed during the first face-to-face meetings after contact was made through dating sites or apps. Online dating services have been around since the early days of the Web, with major paid sites like emerging in 1995 and e Harmony in 2000.More recently, casual dating hook-up apps like Tinder and Grindr emerged.Online relationships tend to progress more quickly than those offline, the National Crime Agency said, and emotional intimacy often leads to people feeling that they are at a more advanced stage of a relationship by the time they meet in real life.One way to steer clear of these criminals altogether is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations.Finally, the FBI advises not to send money through any wire transfer service to someone you met online.

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