He was meant to be her happy ever after - a fairy-tale ending for the prolific children's author consumed by grief. When Helen Bailey's husband of 22 years drowned on holiday in Barbados in 2011, her world crumbled.

Then she met Ian Stewart, 58, a "gorgeous, grey-haired widower" through an online bereavement group. He had lost his wife the previous year and quickly they bonded.

Within a year, Stewart had proposed. In 2013 the couple set up home in a seven-bedroom Hertfordshire mansion. Bailey even changed her will so her fiance would inherit almost all of her 4 million ($6.9m) fortune if she died before they married.

But their cosy domesticity was short-lived. In July last year, the 51-year-old was discovered in a Victorian cesspit under the house, alongside the remains of her faithful daschund, Boris. Her body was so badly decomposed, she had to be identified by her dental records. On Thursday Stewart was sentenced to 34 years in jail for Bailey's murder.

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The jury heard how he had been secretly drugging his partner with zopiclone, a sleeping medication, for weeks before suffocating her. Later that day, he watched his eldest son, Jamie, play bowls, taking him back home for a post-match Chinese takeaway. Afterwards, he changed a standing order from Bailey's bank account to the couple's joint account, switching the amount from 600 to 4000. In the months that followed (Stewart told concerned relatives Bailey had left a note saying she "needed some space") he renewed Arsenal season tickets and flew to Spain for a holiday he had booked with his wife-to-be.

The grim final chapter in the life of a woman described by family as "immensely witty and talented" has again exposed the seedy underbelly of the digital world.

This time, however, it's not the online exploitation of children that's raising alarm bells - research suggests suggesting older women are the internet's most vulnerable users.

Ian Stewart has been found guilty of the murder of children's author Helen Bailey. Photo / AP
Ian Stewart has been found guilty of the murder of children's author Helen Bailey. Photo / AP

This becomes even more apparent when they are going through difficult emotional times which come with this life stage, such as divorce or bereavement, when usual good judgment may not be so finely tuned and a lot of very personal information can be unloaded very quickly if they find someone to trust.

"The most successful scams are carried out on women between 40 and 60," says psychologist Emma Kenny, who explores the perils of internet dating in the documentary Dated to Death, to be shown next month. "Increasingly, older men are going out with much younger partners. A lot of middle-aged women find themselves incredibly lonely and this emotional vulnerability can cause them to make bad choices.

"Quite often, a woman will go for someone who validates her, and she might reveal a lot of personal information early on, which enables predators."

The number of people defrauded by online dating schemes has hit a record high, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Last year, almost 4000 victims of "romance fraud" handed over a staggering 39m.