updated 2/13/2012 2:25:53 PM ET 2012-02-13T19:25:53

The online dating world has opened the door for millions of people to find true love, or at least to go on dozens of dates without those awkward phone calls you remember from high school. But while looking-for-love sites such as Match and eHarmony prove there are plenty of fish in the sea —some of those fish, unfortunately, are after your more than your heart.

According to the fraud protection firm Iovation, instances of fraud on dating websites has jumped more than 150 percent in the past year. Sneaky cybercrooks, often posing as legitimate digital daters, are taking advantage of the big, trusting communities fostered on sites like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish to scam customers out of their credit card information and blanket them with offers for bogus products.

In 2010, 1.4 percent of the online dating site transactions Iovation processed using its ReputationManager 360 program were found to be fraudulent; that number jumped to 3.8 percent in 2011.

Even more than social networking sites, online dating communities are — to steal a phrase from a hokey Valentine's Day card — built on a foundation of trust. You expect that guy or girl that "winked" at you to actually be who they say they are. But what happens when one bad apple (or hundreds) sneaks past security and joins the pool of potential prospects?

"Those bad actors can cause millions of dollars in lost revenue and damaged reputation to online dating sites, not to mention a loss of innocence for its users," Mark Brooks, editor of OnlinePersonalsWatch told Iovation.

This warning is, of course, especially pertinent given tomorrow's holiday, when love is in the air — and on the Web.

"Cybercriminals are constantly looking for that common interest to capitalize on and in this case it's love," Molly O'Hearn, Iovation vice president of operations wrote. "As we head into Valentine's Day, people should be wary of any sort of interaction that seems a little off. Just like in the face-to-face world, if something seems to good to be true, it probably is."

Those questionable interactions could include solicitations for nonexistent services, identity mining, harassment or bullying, phishing and profile misrepresentation, in which online scammers create entirely fake profiles  with the goal of preying on people's trust to get them to hand over personal information or purchase fraudulent products. Just like Facebook, a message from a "friend" may not be what it appears.

To protect yourself from fraudulent scams spreading on online dating sites, make sure you exercise caution when you come across unsolicited offers, even on websites you assume to be trustworthy. Nobody should ever try to sell you anything on a dating site; if you think someone is abusing your online dating site, report him or her to the site's administrators.

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