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AARP is collecting signatures on an online petition calling on dating sites to take stronger steps to protect customers.In Joanna's case, law enforcement did not contact her about an investigation after she reported the theft, and like the vast majority of victims, she never got any money back.For thousands of people each year, the search for love online ends not just with a broken heart, but an empty bank account.So-called romance scams — in which fraudsters smother victims with professions of love then plead for large "loans" to cover invented emergencies — appear to be on the rise, according to federal law enforcement and fraud experts."I saw my 60-year-old Colorado man, and he was a college kid in Ghana," Joanna said. He told Joanna he'd really fallen in love with her.Instead she reported him to the local sheriff and the FBI.
Today Joanna advises others to do their research on potential dates, but most importantly to pay attention to their gut instincts. Because once they forge a bond with you — which can happen surprisingly fast — it can be very hard to break free.She estimated that she lost a total of 5,000, which required her to take out loans.Barb Sluppick, founder of the online support group Romancescams.org, which has 20,000 active members, said that one of the hardest things for victims to understand "is that there's no justice in these scams.". Federal officials acknowledge that many cases are not investigated, but they encourage people to report these crimes because the information helps them spot patterns and build cases against repeat offenders.That's particularly true if they've been through difficult circumstances, such as divorce, losing a job, serious illness and other major losses, says Doug Shadel, a fraud researcher and director of AARP Washington.It's as if "their immune system to fraud" is weakened, Shadel said.
A car accident was followed by other emergencies that prevented him from coming home — and led to requests for more cash.