Contact 6: Woman goes broke via online relationship

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Along with the surge in online dating comes an important warning to be wary of people you "love" asking for money.

"Initially, it started out as a friendship. He would tell me about himself. I would tell him about myself," Mary, a fraud victim said.

Mary started a relationship with a man via a social networking site. He said he was stuck in Nigeria and asked her to help him by sending him money to fly home.

"It started out pretty small the money that he needed, and it just escalated," Mary said.

Mary says there always seemed to be an excuse as to why the man never returned, and always needed more money.

"Initially, it was my own money. Then, I had to take out loans to help him. And it just snowballed from there," Mary said.

Since Mary was now out of money herself, her online connection had a new idea for how they could make some cash. It started with fraudulent credit cards the suspect sent to Mary.

"She would then take these credit cards and make purchases at local retail stores, take those fraudulent items to a pawn shop and get cash for that purchase," U.S. Postal Inspector Joshua Bergeron said.

Mary then wired the money back to the suspect in Nigeria -- sometimes thousands of dollars at a time -- more than $200,000 in total.

"I had myself fooled thinking everything was okay," Mary said.

Postal inspectors say scams like these are growing, as online dating sites increase in popularity. Con men prey on people seeking relationships or companionship and end up manipulating and robbing victims.

"I guess I was very gullible and easily convinced and I`d been in such a bad situation myself that he promised me so much that none of it has come true," Mary said.

Mary is now trying to rebuild.

"Right now, I work two jobs to try and get myself back on my feet. It`s going to take quite a while. It`s going to take a long time," Mary said.

Mary pleaded guilty for her role in this scam, and says she will think twice before starting any relationships online.