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Beware of Internet dating scams

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The rise of the Internet has taken some of the hassle out of dating. But it has also become a hunting ground for "sweetheart" scammers looking to make a buck off those looking for love. I'm Claes Bell with the Bankrate.com Personal Finance Minute.

Internet dating scams are nothing new. In fact, their precursors -- sweetheart scams -- have been around for decades. Most of the practitioners of romance-based con games target women ages 45 to 60; it is believed they account for about 60 percent of reported victims. And it's a crime investigators know to be vastly underreported.

Some sweetheart scams are pretty straightforward and easy to see through, but others aren't so transparent. Thieves increase their success rate by studying the types of responses that would appeal to their victims and acting accordingly.

Often, they bring money into their conversations with the victims gradually after first establishing a relationship. The excuses for needing money range from financial emergencies to being in an accident to traveling to visit their new love interest. But a request for money -- whether as a loan or a gift -- is a red flag that should send the recipient running for cover. But if you do give money to someone who ends up being a thief, it's important to report it. Government agencies are working hard to combat these scams, and only by reporting will these crimes ever be resolved. Plus, your homeowners insurance policy may at least partially reimburse you.

For more on this and other personal finance topics, visit Bankrate.com. I'm Claes Bell.

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