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A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud.

Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims' money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf.

Mollie Halpern: The FBI says an increasing number of Americans are becoming victims of romance scams originating from West Africa. Halpern: Scammers use stories of fake tragedies, medical problems, and other hardships to solicit money. Shamwell: “I have a business that’s profitable, but I’m lacking certain equipment to make it more profitable.

Perpetrators use legitimate dating websites to defraud people looking for love out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, jewelry, electronics, and even plane tickets. I can assure you that if I can get this equipment, then I can make more money and we can be together.” Halpern: Believing they are in a relationship, some victims break the bank to help their Internet interest. Shamwell: Some of these victims are actually taking out second mortgages on their homes, they're using their retirement funds, they're doing reverse mortgages, things of that nature.

Victims can be highly traumatized by this and are often very embarrassed and ashamed when they learn they have become a victim of a scam and that the romance was a farce.

In some cases, online dating services are themselves engaged in misrepresentation, displaying profiles which have been fabricated, which use personal information from users who have not agreed to be depicted on the site social accounts, classified sites and even forums to groom new victims.

The most common target of online dating scams are women over 40, who are divorced, widowed, or disabled, according to the FBI.

The agency warned, however, that "every age group and demographic is at risk." The traditional online dating scam is "A Nigerian guy gets a victim to send money by a wire transfer," said Iovation's O'Hearn.

Yet in the quest for love, online daters may find fraud instead.

That phishing-style scam still happens, but fewer people fall for it now.

Instead fraudsters have turned to spam and identity mining that attempt to acquire personal information to steal the person's identity.

He says victims believe they’ve made a love connection over the computer, only to be devastated later when learning the correspondent doesn’t actually exist.

So it’s not that these people have disposable income.

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