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As soon as he returned, he promised, he'd come visit Smalley in Ohio. The spirited e-mail romance hummed along for another two months before there was a problem. Even after the bank told her the money orders had been altered — they were purchased for , but then "washed" and doctored to read 0 — she still held out hope.Richie said his boss paid him in postal money orders, and he was having trouble cashing them. Could she cash the money order for him, then wire the money to him in Nigeria? But a friend pointed her to an Internet site devoted to Nigerian scams, and suddenly, Smalley's world crashed down around her.When Theresa Smalley received a note from Richie last January asking if she wanted to chat, she was flattered. The two began exchanging e-mails, friendly at first, but quickly swelling in intensity and passion.By Valentine's Day, Smalley received a box of chocolate candy, a teddy bear, and a helium balloon that said "I love you." Smalley, 46, was hooked, even though she had never met him."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.There have been so many victims that they are starting to find each other online.Richie said he was from Milford, Mass., but that he was out of the country on a big construction job.

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Then, Richie was ready to leave the country, but needed money to deal with a visa problem. I had to pay them ,700, which was everything I had," she said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever known that this is all a part of an elaborate online scam. agencies have issued warnings on the scams, also known as "419" or "advance-fee" frauds.

Richie's picture showed a jolly, bearded man curled up on a couch with a cat rubbing his face.

"Loving, caring and hardworking," the online dating profile said.

'Keep your money to yourself' But there is no returning money to consumers who have wired funds overseas, hoping to cement a love bond. They have the patience." Rhoda Cook has for years operated a Web site named which maintains a database of sweetheart con artists.

Smalley said other would-be victims need to know about the perils of online matchmaking, and they need to listen to the little voices of hesitation and concern inside that she failed to heed. She's seen many varieties of romance scams, online and off.

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