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Bad Romance: how some romance fraud victims can become money mules

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) –Many people don’t want to be alone on Valentine’s Day, which is why online dating sites report a surge in activity in the days before the holiday. However, the Better Business Bureau warns behind many dating profiles lurk scammers ready to dupe people who believe they found love.

The Better Business Bureau Reports receiving 636 Scam Tracker reports related to romance fraud in the past 36 months. They also received nearly 7,500 complaints against online dating services.

A scam relationship may not seem like it at first. A 2018 Better Business Bureau report found it may take months for scammers to build trusting relationships with victims before asking for money.

READ MOREBroken hearts: 4 stages of online romance scams

A new report shows some victims can inadvertently become money mules. These victims may end up in serious legal trouble for their activities.

A money mule is a way fraudsters get money from victims without being discovered. The Better Business Bureau said in many cases money goes to the money mule, who transfer it to the fraudsters. Many times this takes the money outside the country.

This is a major problem that has gotten the notice of the Federal Government. In November 2018, the Department of Justice issued a fact sheet about an initiative to disrupt, investigate and prosecute money mule activity used to facilitate fraud schemes.

READ THE FULL FACT SHEET HERE

As a part of the government initiative, actions were taken against money mules spanning over 65 federal districts. The criminal actions included charges against a man who received and forwarded proceeds of a romance scam defrauding victims out of more than $800,000.

The Better Business Bureau says a romance scam victim can become an inadvertent money mule if they get hooked by the fraudster, but may not have money or already gave all their money to the scammer.

These victims may be used to launder money from other victims by getting money or goods bought with stolen credit cards and sending them out of the country.

Experts interviewed by the Better Business Bureau say some victims may become willing accomplices and can get paid for taking part.

The victim’s motivation for becoming an accomplice can vary from trying to recover from being defrauded themselves to love or fear of losing a partner. The fraudster may also threaten to report them for their part in the scam.

The Better Business Bureau report says the fraud can target men or women.

Scammers targeting men may claim to be a young student or teacher in another country needing money for travel to the US or another destination.

Scammers targeting women may claim to be involved in business overseas and need help to handle emergency “business issues”.

Whatever story the scammer uses, the Better Business Bureau says the scenarios make requests for help appear very believable to the victim.

Jacob Burbrink

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