There's a surge in online dating, with people trying new ways to find that special someone.
But officials warn it may also put you in contact with con artists.
What seemed to be an innocent online relationship turned into a nightmare for Mary. She was manipulated into sending thousands of dollars overseas and persuaded to commit crime herself.
"Initially, it started out as a friendship," Mary said. "He would tell me about himself. I would tell him about myself."
Mary started an online relationship with a man who told her he was stuck in Nigeria and he asked her to help him by sending him money to fly home.
"It started out pretty small the money that he needed... and it just escalated," Mary said.
But, there always seemed to be an excuse as to why he never returned and always needed more money.
"Initially, it was my own money, then I had to take out loans to help him," Mary said. "And it just snowballed from there."
Since Mary was now out of money herself, her online connection had a new idea for how they could make some cash. It started with fraudulent credit cards the suspect sent to Mary.
"She would then take these credit cards and make purchases here at local retail stores, take those fraudulent items to a pawn shop and get cash for that purchase," said Joshua Bergeron, U.S. Postal Inspector.
Mary then wired the money back to the suspect in Nigeria, sometimes thousands of dollars at a time. The amount totaled more than $200,000.
Postal inspectors say scams like these are growing as online dating sites increase in popularity. Con artists prey on people seeking relationships or companionship and end up manipulating and robbing victims.
"I guess I was very gullible and easily convinced, and I'd been in such a bad situation myself that he promised me so much… that… none of it has come true," Mary said.
"Right now, I work two jobs to try and get myself back on my feet. It's going to take quite a while. It's going to take a long time."
Mary did plead guilty for her role in this fraud.
The Better Business Bureau says if you're using an online dating service, look for red flags:
If your match suggests leaving the dating site immediately, using a personal email.
If they express feelings of love too quickly.
If they can't meet you in person.
If they have a sudden emergency which requires you to get them money.
Monday, September 1 2014 9:11 AM EDT2014-09-01 13:11:08 GMT
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