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His profile said he was a widower and a veterinarian who travels, reads poetry and loves to shop. He was adorable, with big hazel eyes and salt-and-pepper hair.

I worked up the nerve to write him and was thrilled when he replied, saying he was flattered to receive my email. Imagine my heartbreak when I discovered he doesn't exist.

He told me he is a great cook (perfect), loves the beach (ditto) and tries to work out but isn't always consistent (Hello, soul mate! I know many people on dating websites tell little white lies—putting a positive spin on their age, weight, income or the reason their last relationship broke up.

But I've been surprised to discover that some profiles are fakes, created by scammers looking to defraud individuals. EHarmony spokesman Paul Breton says the company tries to educate members about safety, and a full-time team reviews profiles using technology and their instincts. Psychologists blame what they call the "halo effect." It's what happens when we notice something we like about a person—often it's physical beauty—and then start imagining other positive qualities.

In many cases they are able to take in sophisticated victims, people who would never fall for one of those emails from Nigeria telling you how to claim your inheritance. After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend last year, the Washington, D. Almost immediately, the woman's profile disappeared from the site. Samuels couldn't reach her when he tried to write or call. It's the reason good-looking people often are paid more than average-looking people, and it happens all the time in online dating.

"They present themselves as being vulnerable, but they are really looking for someone who is more vulnerable," Mr. Online-dating sites use three lines of defense against scammers.

There's technology: Typically, an automated system will track how many messages a profile sends per hour, or searches for words like "wire." A security team may scan suspicious profiles.

Most reputable sites encourage users to flag inappropriate behavior, including money requests.

Now, some online-dating sites are adding more exclusivity and security.

C.-based senior manager at an import-export company says he decided to try his chances on dating site e Harmony. We see an attractive person, or read an interesting profile, and soon we are projecting onto that person who we are looking for, letting our guard down, ignoring red flags. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it gets thousands of complaints a year from people who have been fleeced by people they met on dating sites.


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