I firsted started to suspect that some online dating sites may be trying to pull a fast one when the same sexy singles who lived near me in America still popped up in my browser even after I moved to Japan.

While I can’t completely rule out the possibility that they simply crossed the ocean to make another bid at this prime piece of real estate, pairing pictures of incredibly attractive men and women with phrases like “local” and “near you” is a common method for enticing new members. Once you’ve joined, many sites even employ shills — people who are paid to create profiles and pretend to be interested in you.

It turns out this is quite the lucrative strategy: on January 15, seven people in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, were arrested on charges of fraud after raking in over $22 million from operating an online dating community populated almost entirely by fake members.

The site, called DEAiBBS, was started in 2005 and boasted a user base of nearly 120,000 lonely Japanese singles — roughly 80% of whom weren’t actually real.

Over 45 claims totaling 85,000,000 yen ($965,000 US) in damages had been filed against the site before the arrests, and the site is said to have made over 2 billion yen ($22.7 million) during its seven years of operation.

According to police reports, four of the men arrested were part-time staff employed solely to flirt with real members, enticing them to become paying members or renew their subscriptions.

Among the victims were a 30-year-old woman from Aichi Prefecture who spent nearly 20 million yen ($22,700) and a 70-year-old man from Kanagawa Prefcture who spent 10 million ($11,300).

The poor old guy would have had better luck blowing his retirement check on renting a real fake Japanese girlfriend. Not to mention

Source: Sponichi Annex, Merumo