When Jan Marshall moved to Melbourne in 2012 from Brisbane all she wanted was someone to show her around Victoria.
So, for the first time in her life, she signed up to an online dating site.
The then corporate manager soon found a “very good looking engineer” and things got serious fast, too fast.
Instead of a friend and a companion, Ms Marshall had met a “dodgy con artist” and become a victim of an online dating scam.
But she didn’t find out for another 72 days. By then it was too late.
“Over a short period, he more and more professed his interest and love for me,” Ms Marshall said.
“Within about four to five weeks, it had gotten so strong that I had agreed to marry him.
“And then the request for money started.”
It didn’t stop until she lost everything.
“The requests for money continued over five weeks and in that time I had loaned him – what I thought I had loaned him – over $260,000,” she said.
“He then cut contact because I didn’t have any money, and I realised I had been scammed.
Ms Marshall is not the only victim to online love scams.
Last year, Victorians lost more than $4.2 million to romance scams, up by around $200,000 from 2015.
Nationally, more than $24 million was lost by Australians in 2016, with more than $2 million in February alone.
But Ms Marshall, who now runs an online blog and a support group, Melbourne Dating Scam Survivors, said that was probably just 10 per cent of the actual figure.
She said a lot of people did not report the crime because of shame and victim-blaming.
“It took me about 18 months to get over the shock,” she said.
“It is very hard to recover from this because you are in grief about that lost relationship, and secondly, you have often lost not only a significant amount of money but you may have gone into additional debt, which you then find you cannot pay for.
“And there is the victim-blaming … that makes you feel incredibly bad about telling anybody, even family.”
The Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz said “dodgy con artists” preyed on people searching for love with empty promises of a happy future together.
“Don’t be fooled by these fraudsters,” Ms Kairouz said.
“They are experts at spinning elaborate webs of lies to win sympathy and fool people into handing over their hard-earned money.”
Ms Kairouz said the fallout from a romance scam could be emotionally and financially devastating.
“If you think you are being scammed, report it as soon as possible so we can stop these criminals in their tracks,” she said.
However, Ms Kairouz said prevention was the only way to avoid a loss.
“They use excuse of injury, or illness or wanting to purchase a ticket to come over and visit,” she said.
“Once the money goes offshore, it is difficult to get it back.
Some of the warning signs include reluctance to meet face-to-face and over-the-top expressions of love. Moving the conversation away from the more secure dating sites to personal accounts is another trap to avoid.
Ms Marshall said she lost everything to the fraudsters, but she wanted to stop others from making the same mistake.
She said from the start, the red flags were there, but love had blinded her.
“Scammers …profess love very, very quickly and get you so involved with them that you will do anything,” Ms Marshall said.
“Anybody who is looking for somebody else is vulnerable.”