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They were looking for love online — but these women were left with broken hearts & empty bank accounts

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- There's a group of women who thought they found the man of their dreams online. Instead, they're left with a broken heart -- and that's not all.

Photos show a soldier on duty -- travel photos -- even pictures with family. They're photos you might see on social media sites. However, these particular pictures were used to lure women into a scam that cost them thousands of dollars.

"Oftentimes, the fraudsters will look for photos of men in the military and they will play on the sympathies of the women," U.S. Postal Inspector Adam Latham said.

Fraudsters steal photos, and then -- pretending to be the people in the pictures -- post them on the internet dating sites where they troll for women.

"The typical victim that we`ve uncovered is middle-aged divorced women in the U.S. They use stolen credit cards to send flowers, teddy bears, chocolates. They literally groom them over months at a time. They chat with them for hours a day," Latham said.

After gaining their trust, the scheme begins.

"At some point down the line, they are told there is a financial emergency. Their credit cards don`t work overseas or there is some kind of business emergency and they are told to send money," Latham said.

Many victims send that money -- only to learn they've been scammed.

Postal inspectors say millions of dollars have been lost in so-called "sweetheart schemes" across the United States.

"The women were typically told to send several hundred dollars at a time. That is a convenient amount to send through Western Union or MoneyGram," Latham said.

The money is one part -- but the psychological damage is another.

"There is a lot of trust involved with them thinking they were in love with the man. They are embarrassed by the money they lost. They don`t want family members to know. They don`t want their employer to know," Latham said.

Postal inspectors say women need to be very careful about online relationships.

"This case is really just another variation of a fraud scheme that I have investigated for over 10 years. Criminals are greedy. This is just another method for them to obtain money from vulnerable victims," Latham said.

Two of the women involved in the scheme lost thousands of dollars and were forced to file for bankruptcy.

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