Like so many singles today, Patricia Hartin figured she had nothing to lose by logging on to a free web dating service.
But she was wrong: $33,053.15 wrong.
The story of how the Surrey widow was taken in by an organized Nigerian romance scam is especially poignant to those who think they'll never be sucked in by honey-tongued lizards online.
Indeed, the Internet carries scores of heart-wrenching testimonies by loners who figured they were smarter than that.
Hartin thought she was. After all, she had seen a lot during 13 years in the often-dicey insurance business.
Besides, a relative had met the love of his life online. Why not her?
So after her ailing husband finally passed away, the 66-year-old took to the keyboard, exchanging messages with a couple of fellas who responded to her profile on a romance site.
One in particular seemed interesting -- and interested.
Antonio soon sent a photo and number for her to call. They e-mailed and talked several times a day.
He was an architect in Nigeria, he said, was a regular church-goer, a bit of a poet and looking for a mate.
He wanted to get out of the poverty-stricken, corrupt country but had no money. They were soon talking about him immigrating to Canada.
"We were ordained by God to be together," he wrote her in March, along with a letter of commitment. He called himself her African Prince, she, his sexy African Queen.
Not long after that, Hartin sent the first of 32 cash deposits to a Western Union depot address in Nigeria.
"I found myself doing what I said I would never do," she told me.
"But when you're lonely and looking for somebody in your life, it happens. I wanted so much to believe in us."
He needed airfare, a passport, visa, Internet connection, storage fees to pack and ship his belongings, cash to pay for hospital treatment after he was beaten and his (her) money stolen, etc.
As soon as he found a job in Canada, he would begin paying it back, he said.
By mid-May, Hartin had racked up more than $33,000 on her credit card in cash advances and service charges.
She was also asked to courier money to Nigeria for two others who thought they were sending money to online dates but who turned out to be victims as well.
"A few times I was suspicious, but [Antonio] always managed to talk me out of it. Once you're in deep, it's hard to go back -- you've got so much invested and it's so embarrassing to think you've been had. Neither my friends nor family knew for the longest time."
When Hartin finally twigged, she swallowed her pride and talked to Surrey RCMP, who told her there was little they could do to scammers operating outside the country.
Hartin has since learned that the scam is run by a pack of thieves who set up shop, complete with computers in an apartment building in Ikeja, a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. They get their photos from modelling sites. And the poetry? Well, at least one website offers an array of poems for just about every emotion.
It wasn't easy for Hartin to go public -- nobody likes to broadcast their stupidity. "But I figure if I can stop even one person from getting taken, it's worth it."
For more info on this and other ripoffs, do a Google search for Nigerian romance scams.