Cybernet fraudsters are cashing in on age, fear and loneliness with scams ripping tens of thousands of dollars from the savings of Australian victims.
They are also tugging at heartstrings, creating false charities to tap into the nation's altruism.
Some of those who have not dug into their bank accounts have borrowed money to feed into web frauds.
Others have even mortgaged the family home. Many suffered deep personal trauma as a result, including marital problems and a loss of trust of other people.
Researchers at the Australian Institute of Criminology, with Victoria Police and the Melbourne University School of Social and Political Sciences, found that victims had been parted from sums running into six figures.
The institute's report said that the totals scammed ranged from A$100 ($119) to A$120,000.
The average amount lost per victim was A$12,000.
The most vulnerable were older Australians, who despite using the internet less accounted for four out of 10 victims, the study said.
But people seeking love on the web suffered the most.
The study found that more than a third of victims had been exposed to dating or relationship scams, often conducted through social media and with many transferring money to the scammers over extended periods.
About three-quarters of victims had remitted cash to scammers on more than one occasion and more than 40 per cent of those scammed had sent money five or more times.
Victims of dating scams also sent more money: about A$17,500 compared to the average A$11,500 taken by other scams.
Victims of online transactions lost the least, with averages of A$4000 for job scams, A$3000 for fake charities and A$1000 for other online transactions.
The study said fraudsters also often manipulated altruism to achieve their frauds.
"This is difficult to counter as people want to make a positive gesture to a charity or a relationship," it said.
Overall, more than a quarter of victims had responded to invitations concerning online transactions, charitable donations and job-related scams, while the remainder had responded to other types of advance fee invitations, including lottery scams.
Most of the money - 80 per cent - came from personal savings, but 13 per cent took out personal loans and one in 10 borrowed from family or friends.
About 5 per cent mortgaged property to raise cash for the scammers.
More than half of the victims surveyed for the study had fallen into financial hardship as a result.
The study said that most of these had lost more than others who placed different forms of trauma above the loss of money.
On average, those who reported financial hardship had lost A$14,000, compared with average losses of A$10,000 for other victims.
But the pain was not just monetary.
The study said more than 40 per cent had suffered emotional trauma, and a similar number a collapse of their confidence in other people.
More than one in 10 experienced problems with their marriage or other relationships because of the scams, and many did not bother to report the frauds. The study said more than a quarter were too embarrassed, 20 per cent believed the police would not be able to track down the scammers, and a small number feared for their safety.