SHREVEPORT, La. (Better Business Bureau) - With Valentine’s Day comes a surge of activity on dating websites and singles looking to the internet for a love connection. Unfortunately, these sites are rife with fraudsters who use affection to manipulate their victims out of their money.
A new Better Business Bureau (BBB) report finds online romance scams often escalate as scammers turn their victims into unwitting accomplices to fraud, known as “money mules.”
Romance scammers typically contact their victims through dating websites, apps or social media, often using fake profiles and even stolen credit card information. Using these false identities, scammers may spend months grooming their victims, building what the victim believes to be a loving relationship, before asking for money to handle an emergency or travel expenses.
The financial damage inflicted by these scams, which is often accompanied by far greater emotional harm, is often just the tip of the iceberg. According to the new BBB report, 20 to 30 percent of romance scam victims were used as “money mules” in 2018 alone, with these victims numbering in the thousands.
Money mules act as financial middlemen in a variety of scams, laundering money from other victims by receiving money or goods purchased with stolen credit cards and sending them on to the fraudsters, often out of the country. This often happens when the romance scam victim has no money or already has given all of their money to the scammer.
The victim may be a willing accomplice or may have a variety of other motives – love, fear, financial compensation for their own losses – but the outcome is the same: By providing this type of aid to the fraudster instead, the victim aids and abets a variety of other frauds, muddying the scope of a fraud and the identity of the real perpetrator.
The scams and crimes in which money mules may become embroiled include business email compromises, fake check scams (the subject of an in-depth BBB investigative study in 2018), credit card reshipping, grandparent scams and even illegal drug transportation. These frauds have in common that the money mules frequently are romance scam victims.
As law enforcement cracks down on romance and other frauds, prosecuting more and more of these scams’ perpetrators in recent years, money mules at times have been prosecuted as well, facing jail time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution payments. In most cases, however, there is no desire to take criminal action against unwitting participants who had no financial gain and who stop transferring money for crooks as soon as they realize the role they have been playing.
What to do if you are the victim of a romance scam:
● Complain to bbb.org
● Report the fraud to bbb.org/scamtracker
● Report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-Help
● Report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3
● Report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Toll-free from the US at 1-888-495-8501.
● Report it to the Senate Aging Committee Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470 or through its website.
● Victims who have sent money through Western Union should complain directly to them at 1-800-448-1492.
● Victims who have sent money through MoneyGram should notify them directly at 1-800-926-9400.
See the Related Links section of the page for more information.