PhotoYou already know to be wary whenever you go online, so you don't fall prey to the various types of scammers, thieves, con artists, hackers, malware-writers and other threats that proliferate on the Internet.

And if you're looking for love in an online dating site you must be extra-careful, because looking for love already leaves you emotionally vulnerable, but you can't let that vulnerability bleed over into other realms as well.

A woman in Indiana learned that the hard way this month, after losing over $150,000 to an online scammer whom she'd thought was a local man falling in love with her.

On July 23, Indiana's NBC affiliate reported the story of an anonymous Kosciusko County woman (her identity is being kept secret in part because the police investigation into her case is still ongoing) who, in February, started online chats with a man she met on an unidentified dating site.

"Pretty intense"

The man introduced himself as “John Hagen,” supposedly an engineer from nearby South Bend. They spent several weeks sharing phone calls, text messages and email chats, but never actually met face-to-face.

The woman – whom WNDU is calling “Tonya” for purposes of the story – said “It got pretty intense fairly quickly. 'I love you, I want to be with you for the rest of my life.' Lots of passion and lots of attention. Just really making me feel special.”

But within only a few weeks, those declarations of love were soon mixed with requests for money:

John told Tonya he needed money while traveling overseas on a planned work trip to Egypt. It was one catastrophe after the next and his excuses were excessive. He lost his tools and needed money to rent them, he needed funds to pay his staff and enough to pay hospital bills after he supposedly had a stroke.

"It's almost like you know something is coming, but you're in so, so far. You just play it through," said Tonya.

The two arranged to meet at the South Bend airport twice. Both times, John did not get off the plane. Four months and thousands of dollars later, Tonya had had enough and told John she couldn't give him any more money.

"I had sent this man a total of almost $150,000 by this time."

Unfortunately, stories like “Tonya's” are not rare at all. Last January we ran an article about some then-recent online dating scams, the same basic story only with slightly different details: victim enrolls in online dating site; meets a man with whom she exchanges frequent phone calls and online chats, although they never actually met face to face; the man claims to be in love and then starts citing sob stories which can only be alleviated if the woman sends money.

A couple months after the story ran, a reader named Nancy Mitchell read it and commented that she ran across such would-be scammers all the time. Her description of a generic love-scammer sounded almost exactly like “John Hagen” from South Bend, Indiana:

They ALL seem to be ... engineers, alone in the world, waiting for a huge check from someone. The biggest tipoff is when you ask them where they live. Seldom in the US. ….

Engineer? Check. Single? Of course. Not currently in the US (and thus conveniently unavailable for face-to-face meetups)? Ditto. “Waiting for a huge check” – well, John's requests for loans to pay for alleged business trips, or manage payroll at the company he allegedly owns, sort of falls into that category.

The best way to protect yourself from such scams to to remember the rest of Nancy's comment: “Bottom line, I wouldn't give money to people I KNOW, let alone some stranger. You cannot fall in love with a photo; you need to see the REAL person.”

Which is another way of saying: if you've never so much as been in the same room with a person, you definitely don't know them well enough to trust them with your money.

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