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hristopher Russell owned a small bar in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, but, like a lot people these days, figured he had better odds hooking up online.

Russell was 40 and going through a divorce, so he wasn't seeking anything serious. Shortly after creating his account, he got an alert that one of them had viewed his profile. In order to see more details and contact her, he had to buy credits.

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Last July, he found out that he wasn't the only one getting the silent treatment.

A hacker group called The Impact Team leaked internal memos from Ashley Madison's parent company, Avid Life, which revealed the widespread use of sexbots — artificially-intelligent programs, posing as real people, intended to seduce lonely hearts like Russell into paying for premium service. The strangers hitting you up for likes on Facebook? And, like many online trends, this one's rising up from the steamier corners of the web.

Whether you know it or not, odds are you've encountered one. "The majority of the matches are often bots," says Satnam Narang, Symantec’s senior response manager. Keeping the automated personalities at bay has become a central challenge for software developers.

"It's really difficult to find them," says Ben Trenda, Are You Human's CEO.

"Web sites escape liability when an ad on their site results in rape, prostitution and even death," Rep. "Our priorities are out of balance, and perpetrators are taking advantage." Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, noted that each year about 100,000 boys and girls become prostitutes.