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AT first, the constant attention seemed sweet and very special. Cook, a church secretary in the Tidewater, Va., area, had been a widow for a decade when she joined an Internet dating site and was quickly overcome by a rush of emails, phone calls and plans for a face-to-face visit.“I’m not stupid, but I was totally naïve,” said Ms.

Cook, now 76, who was swept off her feet starting in July 2011 by attention from a man who called himself Kelvin Wells and described himself as a middle-aged German businessman looking for someone “confident” and “outspoken” to travel with him to places like Italy, his “dream destination.”But very soon he began describing various troubles, including being hospitalized in Ghana, where he had gone on business, and asking Ms. In all, she sent him nearly 0,000, as he apparently followed a well-honed script that online criminals use to bilk members of dating sites out of tens of millions of dollars a year.

I had bought him a sweater, but Christmas came and went,” she said.

Later, he threatened her with not returning any of her money if she did not send more.

As a result of investigations into more than two dozen complaints by victims in the state, Vermont’s Legislature is poised to pass a law requiring online dating sites to notify members quickly when there is suspicious activity on their accounts or when another member has been barred on suspicion of financial fraud.

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Her reaction to losing almost 0,000 to the swindler: “I blame myself.

I felt like jumping off a cliff.”Law enforcement authorities say the swindlers follow a similar pattern.“They get the victim to trust them, then create a sense or urgency and prey on the trust they’ve created,” said David Farquhar of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s financial crimes section.

Most victims say they are embarrassed to admit what happened, and they fear that revealing it will bring derision from their family and friends, who will question their judgment and even their ability to handle their own financial affairs.“That would ruin my reputation in my community,” said a woman from Pensacola, Fla., who spoke on condition of anonymity.

She lost 2,000, she said, to a man she met online in late 2013, but she has kept it secret from her family and friends. Brown, 68, a nurse in a pediatrician’s office in Burlington, Vt., also hid the fact she had been defrauded online.

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