Of all the ways online dating doesn’t work out, this may just be the worst: Talking to someone for a week, spending loads of money... and then realizing she’s a bot.

Wang Xiaopeng (not his real name), a 23-year-old man in Guangdong, downloaded a dating app named Lover Net. He says it was ranking the highest on an unspecified app store and he was greeted by flirtatious voice messages from multiple female users, according to a CCTV news segment.

Then, right after one of them told Wang she could be his girlfriend, the app said that he had to pay to continue talking to her. He paid -- feeling eager to find a girlfriend because of peer pressure, the CCTV report says. But the girl started brushing him off and soon stopped replying.

After asking customer support for help to find the girl, he paid 1999 yuan (US$288) for another service called “matchmaker one on one”, which could supposedly help him get in touch. Guess what? It didn’t, and customer support never got back to him again.

Another man interviewed by CCTV also said a girl he liked only seemed to be interested after receiving a virtual gift from him -- the gift costs real money -- and never agreed to meet with him.

“Then I started to feel like she’s full of lies,” the man said in the CCTV interview.

The CCTV segment -- titled “Traps on the internet”, also blasted online gambling. (Picture: CCTV)

The CEO of the company that makes Lover Net confessed to police that there’s almost no chance that a user is matched with another real user, because these female users are bots with fake profiles. Police arrested 24 people at the company.

China had almost 9 million dating app users in July 2017, according to a report by Nasdaq-listed data company Jiguang.

This isn’t the first time a company used bots to attract or scam real users. In January, Guangdong police shut down 21 companies operating similar schemes, with up to 1 billion yuan (US$144 million) involved and a million users deceived.

Some users of Tantan, China’s Tinder clone, are also complaining about talking to users who they suspect are bots. And it’s not limited to China: They’re on Tinder too. (Although to be clear, some of the bots on these platforms are fakes created by users, and not necessarily organized schemes like Lover Net.)

Lover Net had 750,000 paying users and has over US$140,000 in daily revenue, CCTV says. The company also spent heavily to boost its app store rankings... which is how Mr. Wang came across Lover Net in the first place.