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Of course, people have always been fools for love — it’s just that the global reach and altered reality of the Internet increases the risk and can make the emotional and financial damage more severe.“I don’t think there is a general understanding of how much of this romance scam stuff is out there, how it works and what the consequences are,” said Steven Baker, director of the Midwest region of the Federal Trade Commission.

“It’s staggering how many people fall for it.”Scammers typically create fake profiles on dating sites and apps like Match.com, Ok Cupid, e Harmony, Grindr and Tinder using pictures of attractive men and women — often real people whose identities they’ve filched off Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites.

“We get about 30 requests for help a day,” usually from young men who sent a picture of their privates to a buxom Tinder match who turned out to be a blackmailer.

AARP has been fielding similarly cringe-worthy distress calls from seniors who exposed themselves in front of a webcam.

In reality, the scammers are Africans from Nigeria and Ghana.

People on the pictures are not associated with scammers in any way, they are just victims of identity theft.

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This lures victims who swipe or click to begin corresponding.

The perpetrators may be working out of call centers in West Africa, wooing four or five people at a time.

Or maybe the scammer doesn’t ask for money at all but requests that the victim receive money and then transfer it to another account, giving marginally plausible reasons.“It’s common for victims to become money mules where they are unwittingly helping facilitate other crimes,” Mr. “There have been prosecutions of victims who kept receiving and sending money even when they were firmly told they were working for crooks.” Yet prosecutions of romance scammers have been rare, thanks to the anonymity of the Internet and the difficulty of tracing wired funds.

In the latest twist, scammers coax victims into taking explicit photos and videos of themselves and then threaten to distribute them to their Facebook or Skype contacts if they don’t pay them money or help them launder money.“We’re seeing a lot of these sextortion cases lately,” said Wayne May, an administrator who gives advice to the lovelorn on the website Scam Survivors.

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