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"A little gift of flowers or candy is a good aphrodisiac," said Miskell. I can't tell you the number of women who have fallen for this." Eventually, the con artists convince their soulmates to do them a big favor — help transfer funds out of the bank.

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The goods are often purchased with stolen credit cards, but the con artists have trouble getting them delivered out of the country, because many U. Sluppick said one confused victim in her Yahoo support group currently has about $50,000 in merchandise that's been sent to her home, and she doesn't know what to do with it.

The Merchant Risk Council's Ferguson said victims can always contact her agency for help returning merchandise to the retailers.

The group is trying to publicize the problem to limit the damage. Now, I get one every couple of weeks or so because it's the easiest way to get somebody hooked," Ferguson said. We don't want people to be taken in." But they are, said Donna Gregory, supervisory internet crime specialist at the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center. "We've even seen them take as long as a year (to seduce a mark)," Gregory said.

"How many people are out there thinking they found the love of their life and they have no clue what's happening? "The first thing most people say to me when they contact me is, 'I can't believe I was so stupid.' " Sweetheart scams appear to be on the rise, said Julie Ferguson, executive director of the Merchant Risk Council, which tracks scams for online retailers. "The stories are so-gut-wrenching sad." Some scammers seem to deliberately target groups set up for Christian singles, she said, where people may be less likely to be suspicious. Con artists will hunt for people's weaknesses, find out what they care about -- such as Grateful Dead music -- and then go in for the kill.

In other cases, the con artists aren't after money -- they are after shipping help. "They say, 'Oh, once you have them, why not just send them?