Dating600Mashable: Lonely hearts seeking love this Valentine’s Day, be wary. Online dating fraud rose by 150% percent in 2011 as scammers and hucksters turned up the false charm and predatory trolling.

That’s according to data shared with Mashable by fraud protection agency Iovation, which works with several major Internet dating services. Iovation reached that number by employing patented technology that analyzes hardware and software, rather than mine for personal information, says Molly O’Hearn, vice president of operations.

Iovation found that in 2011, 3.8% of all transactions it processed for online dating sites were fraudulent. That includes users misrepresenting themselves to try to acquire personal information, directing users to phishing sites, spamming people with unrelated messages, or persistently harassing users.

From 2009 to 2010, dating fraud on the sites Iovation monitors declined slightly, from a rate of 1.5% to 1.4%.

The spike in 2011 was due to two trends in the industry, according to O’Hearn. The first is that “while dating sites have been around for several years, we’re now entering an era where the later adopters are willing to give it a go,” she says. “With that growth comes more bad guys, because it represents an opportunity.”

Another emerging opportunity, O’Hearn said, is the proliferation of dating sites targeted at specific niches — people who are Catholic, Jewish, virgins or pot users. This narrowing of the field allows scammers to better target their marks and tailor their nefarious strategies.

O’Hearn said that one common scheme involves trying to direct conversations off-site to personal email or instant messaging accounts, where it’s easier to mine for information. Another preys on the sympathy of possible paramours by asking for money to deal with crises like huge medical bills or the need to visit a dying relative.

O’Hearn said that two main giveaways of swindlers are the use of the world “love” in the early stages of correspondence, and people whose syntax and use of language don’t jibe with their pictures or where they claim to be from.

So, if that charming blue-eyed farm boy from Nebraska suddenly tells you he wants to “make nice date with you, love” for Valentine’s Day, take the suger with a few grains of salt.

Do you believe that online dating fraud is on the rise? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.