This has gotten so bad the U.S. embassy has issued alerts to warn people about this. Here are the basics from the embassy.
United States citizens should be alert to attempts at fraud by persons claiming to live in Russia professing friendship, romantic interest, and /or marriage intentions over the Internet.
Typically, once a connection is made, the correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or “visa costs”. Sometimes, the correspondent notifies the American citizen that a close family member, usually the mother, is in desperate need of surgery and begins to request monetary assistance. Scams have even advanced to the point where the U.S. citizen is informed of a serious or fatal accident to the correspondent and the family asks for money to cover hospital or funeral costs. Several citizens have reported losing thousands of dollars through such scams.
The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In every case reported to the embassy, the correspondent turned...