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Kerryann Williams posted fake profiles with snaps of other women on dating sites including Plenty of Fish to lure her victims.
Williams, 33, gave them sob stories about being a domestic abuse victim but made up excuses about meeting.
Related: Dating App Caters to the Rich by Weeding Out the Poor declined to comment on Joanna’s case specifically, but in a statement it said it goes to considerable lengths to make sure users are aware that they could encounter fraud artists.
Among the steps the site takes, they said, are a “pledge” that users must sign in which they promise not to send money or share financial information and to report anyone who asks for either; an anti-fraud “care team” that seeks out and blocks suspected scammers and technology that searches for word patterns and IP addresses associated with fraud.
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.
Discontinuing contact may sound “obvious and simple, but it isn’t always because they’ve fallen in love with this person,” the AARP’s Shadel said.
A few months after her husband’s death in 2012, Joanna — who asked her real name not be used to protect her privacy — went on looking for the soul mate she’d never had in her troubled marriage.
She soon got a message from a man who said he was a widowed engineer from Colorado.
Although older adults are often targeted — more than three-quarters of complaints to federal agencies came from people 40 and older — fraud experts say people of all ages and backgrounds can fall prey to romance scams.
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.
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.
Williams, who also used the sites Tagged.com, Hi5and Facebook, was arrested after one man hired a private investigator and another went to cops.