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.

What is a money mule?

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.

How can a victim become a money mule?

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.

How can you identify a fraudster?

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.

What can you do if you believe you are a money mule?

The Better Business Bureau urges people who suspect they are being used as money mules contact a Postal Inspector or FBI agent.

In most cases, the BBB says there is no desire to take criminal action against unwitting participants who did not have any financial gain and stop as soon as they realize the role they have been playing.

The information these victims provide may help identify the actual crooks in these situations.

What can you do to protect yourself?

The Better Business Bureau says the best way to avoid becoming a money mule is to simply not fall for a romance fraud at the outset. They provided the following tips to protect yourself.

  • Don’t rush into an online relationship. Talk to family and friends about your dating choices.
  • Analyze dating profiles. Look for repeated phrases and misspellings or misuse of words. Do an internet search of their name and profile picture.
  • Recognize red flags for romance fraud, such as when the romantic interest requests that you:
    • open a bank account or give access to an existing account
    • receive packages and reship them to another location.
    • pick up funds at Western Union or MoneyGram and forward them somewhere else.
    • keep your relationship a secret.
  • If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be assisting in illegal conduct, contact law enforcement. Doing so may well stop other victims from losing money and more.
  • If you suspect you may be involved with a fraud as a money mule, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspectors encourage you to immediately contact them to provide information that may help identify the actual crooks in the fraud. Contact both agencies to refer you to counselors for help.
  • The FBI offers a Money Mule Awareness Booklet with information about how to protect yourself from become a money mule.
  • Scamsurvivors.com offers romance fraud victims free online help from experts and a tool to help you be able to spot romance fraudsters.
  • Fraudaid.com also offers help to fraud victims who have been or are about to be arrested.
  • BBB’s in-depth investigative study on romance scams provides useful background on this type of fraud and how to avoid it.
  • Cybercrime Support Network lists resources for romance fraud victims.
  • Legitimate online dating services want to keep fraudsters off their sites. If the scam was initiated there, report it to them.

Read the full study by the Better Business Bureau below:

Jacob Burbrink

Jacob Burbrink

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