For a woman who prefers cross-stitching to computers, what's happened in the last 12 months is hard to believe.
"I ended up losing close to $500,000," said Esther Ortiz-Rodeghero. "I feel like such a fool."
This time last year, Ortiz-Rodeghero, recently widowed, decided to look for love online.
"I was grieving, and I was lonely, and I wanted someone to share my life with," she said.
The 55-year-old financial analyst ended up on seniorpeoplemeet.com, where she soon met "Wayne," who claimed to be a Major General in Iraq.
They e-mailed every night, and eventually started to get serious.
"He was romancing me to the hilt," said Ortiz-Rodeghero.
He told her they couldn't talk on the phone because of security issues, but before long he asked for money.
At first, he asked for a few hundred dollars to help his son, and then he asked for thousands to launch a business.
"He asked me if I would help him with some of the fees, and it would be our business, and I would help him run it," she said.
Ortiz-Rodeghero believed his promises that he would pay her back and wired money all over the world. She blew through her husband's life insurance, her savings, her 401k, and then she took out loans.
Castle Rock Police Lt. Tim Gorman said these so-called sweetheart scammers could be anyone, anywhere.
"It could be a male, a female, older, younger, you don't know who you're speaking to," said Gorman.
Ortiz-Rodeghero isn't alone. 7NEWS found several websites dedicated to exposing online romance scams.
also recently sent out a warning that an online Prince Charming "could be a criminal sitting in a cyber café with a well-rehearsed script."
Even internet dating sites concede it's a problem.
Seniorpeoplemeet.com sent 7NEWS an e-mail response to our questions, stating that "Every dating site experiences such fraudulent members."
"I wanted to believe that I was in love, and that he loved me," said Ortiz-Rodeghero.
She said she finally got wise when she sent "Wayne" money for a plane ticket to Colorado and he never came.
A year older and wiser, Ortiz-Rodeghero said she's finished with online dating.
It may seem old-fashioned, but if she can't meet a man face-to-face, she'll stick to cross-stitching.
"I will never, ever give another man another dime ever," she said.
There are some warning signs an online prince is too charming to be true.
- They want to leave the dating site immediately and use e-mail or instant message.
- They claim to be from the u-s but are currently overseas.
- You can also check them out on several scam busting websites -- Pig Busters and FTC Warning
Since this story first aired, 7NEWS has talked to the man whose photos were stolen online and used by the dating scammer. He says its unfathomable what happened to Ortiz-Rodeghero and is sorry she was victimized. We have blurred his face in the photos to protect his identity from further scrutiny because he, like Ortiz-Rodeghero, is a victim in this fraud.
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