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(The FBI says it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud scheme because of the personal relationships that are developed, so the real numbers are probably higher.) As one result, fear of a horrible first date is just one of the things a would-be online dater has to worry about. “Most people think the victims are middle-aged women who can’t get a date, but I have worked with men and women of all ages—doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry—who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do,” says Barb Sluppick, who runs Romance Scams, a watchdog site and online support group.

The scammer might say that an immediate family member has a medical emergency and needs money for treatment, or that he has been wrongly arrested and needs help with bail money and legal support.

“There was one woman who got scammed for over a million dollars, her whole retirement nest egg,” Farquhar says.

The CR survey found that 35 percent of respondents who’ve tried online dating felt they had been grossly misled by someone’s online profile, and 12 percent said they’d been scammed.

So it’s up to you to determine how truthful a person is being in his or her profile.

To recognize and avoid romance scams, follow these tips. Copy the images your online correspondent has posted to his or her profile, then run them through a reverse-image search engine, such as Tin Eye or Google Images.

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