Local impact: Online romance scams swindle billions from consumers

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A new study suggests an estimated one million Americans have fallen victim to romance fraud scams over the past three years, costing them nearly one billion dollars.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns those who use dating websites to be wary of scammers who prey on unsuspecting victims.

"My primary dating was in college and it was really nice, because there was a very nice supply of eligible ladies around. I'm over 60 now and the supply is extremely limited,” Leon Fundenberger said.

That's why the Topeka man started online dating eight years ago.

"I found out very quickly that you have to be very careful on who you are talking to, and spend a lot of time with this person online, because they may not be at all who they say they are,” Fundenberger said.

A BBB study found as many as 25,000 scammers may online at any one time, working to lure victims.

A company that screens profiles for dating companies says 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans monthly are fake.

The BBB says do your research - and verify a person's claims.

Fundenberger said he thinks people looking for love online are preyed upon because there are a lot of lonely people out there willing to go above and beyond to meet their love.

“There was one girl online, months and months and months go by she said 'Okay I'll meet you', no she didn't,” he said.

The biggest red flag of all is asking for money.

"A co-worker, was talking about this person like, ‘Okay, he's coming to town, but he didn't have enough money for the plane fare’, and I said 'ohhh watch it, watch it, watch it.' Then he said let's go somewhere to eat, well she paid for the meal, and he ended up not doing anything for her except, you know, getting a free lunch,” Fundenberger said.

The BBB says also be on guard for use of pet names or discussions of marriage early on in the correspondence.