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04 Apr

The mainstreaming of online dating is a revolution in progress, one that's blurring the boundaries between "real" and online relationships.

(AARP has joined this revolution, partnering with the online dating service How About We to launch AARP Dating in December 2012.) But the online-dating boom has also fueled an invisible epidemic.

Duane suggested they both fill out questionnaires listing not only their favorite foods and hobbies but also personality quirks and financial status. An impostor poses as a suitor, lures the victim into a romance, then loots his or her finances.

He also sent her a link to a song, pop star Marc Anthony's "I Need You." "It holds a message in it," he told her, "a message that delivers the exact way i feel for you." Amy clicked on the link to the song, a torrid ballad that ends with the singer begging his lover to marry him. In pre-digital times, romance scammers found their prey in the back pages of magazines, where fake personal ads snared vulnerable lonely hearts.

successful, spiritually minded, intelligent, good sense of humor, enjoys dancing and travelling. In those first weeks, she exchanged messages and a few calls with men, and even met some for coffee or lunch.

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She resolved to be pickier, only contacting men who were closely matched — 90 percent or more, as determined by the algorithm pulling the strings behind her online search. Back in college, she'd studied computer science and psychology, and she considered herself pretty tech-savvy.

The picture — outdoor photo, big smile — was real, and recent.

And her pitch was straightforward: Looking for a life partner …

She had a website for her business, was on Facebook, carried a smartphone.

But who knew exactly how these online dating services worked?