Los Angeles

Dating Website Warning

Chances are, you know a couple who found love on websites like match.com, or OKCupid, but people are discovering a dark side to online dating.

Louise Peerce considers herself a caretaker, from the garden she tends, to the cockatiel she fusses over, to the four Brentwood apartment buildings she manages.

"I am responsible for a lot," she says.

That leaves little time for finding love, a quest complicated by the reality of life in the world's entertainment capitol.

"A lot of it is about what you have, what you look like and I'm looking for something more," she says.

She thought she'd find that "something more" by signing up for JDate, a site that bills itself as "the modern alternative to Jewish matchmaking."

She submitted a profile and felt an instant connection with a man named George. They started emailing and while she told him she was "scared of moving too fast," her trust grew as he described himself as shy, a one woman man and appeared to share her passions.

"He seemed to have interest in what I was doing and he would zoom in on those subjects that I would talk about," she says. “For example, I love landscaping. I shot pictures of my roses. So he sends me a picture of himself putting these big flowers in a vase."

He also sent photos of himself at work as an offshore oil contractor, a career he said he loved, but one that sent him on last-minute trips to the Arctic Circle, postponing their plans to meet in person.

"I didn't feel the need to investigate it because it all made sense," Peerce says.

But after five weeks of emails and texts, he called with an urgent request from overseas.

"He was starting to have problems. And I'm like, 'What's the matter?'

"He sent me an email and said he needs $15,000. And I was like, 'Now I know what's up.' I was devastated."

She'd become the latest victim of a romance scam, a cybercrime that's triggered an avalanche of complaints to the FBI in the past two years. Average financial losses are $5,000 to $10,000, but investigators say many victims have lost more than $400,000.

"The Los Angeles territory alone [has] reported a $14.6 million loss per month," said Michael Sohn, a supervisory special agent with the FBI's Cyber Division.

"We're seeing one-offs," said Sohn. "We're also seeing organized criminal groups doing this and they're coming from all over the world."

For Peerce, the hurt deepened when she complained to JDate's customer service department, and asked for a refund of her $77 membership fee.

"They said to me, 'Oh yeah, we took him off. We've had other complaints about him," Peerce recalls. "They should have made a point to contact all the individuals who had any contact with him. Even if they got one complaint, they should have contacted the other women!"

They also refused to give her money back, so the I-Team reached out to Spark Networks, which operates JDate, as well as several other dating sites, including Christian Mingle, LDS Mingle and Black Singles. Spark quickly agreed to a refund.

But Peerce says that even more than the money, she wants to warn others.

"This is satisfying because I get to take my message and tell other people about it," she says. "I got involved with it really fast, and I let it go on for way too long, and now I know better."

In response to I-Team questions about JDate's security strategy, a Spark Networks spokeswoman says that "in order to keep our customers safe, we use both proprietary and third-party technology to do an in-depth analysis of each transaction, and identify the likelihood of fraud."

Along with the refund, Spark offered Peerce a free month of JDate. She was grateful, but says she's done with online dating for now.

DISCLAIMER: Peerce is the sister of an NBC4 producer.

Full statements from JDate/Spark Networks:

In order to keep our customers safe, we use both proprietary and third-party technology to do an in-depth analysis of each transaction, and identify the likelihood of fraud. In the event that we must remove an account we have identified as fraudulent, we also remove any messages sent by that account from the inboxes of those who received them, and for additional protection, we notify these members of the action we have taken.

For added safety, our online dating safety guide.

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