How Romance Scams Often Lead to Further Fraud

On Thursday the FBI announced a major cyber fraud and money laundering scheme that spanned across the globe and targeted United States residents.

It was stated that this scheme resulted in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million and the attempted theft of an additional $40 million. The Department of Justice announced that they have charged 80 people, most of whom are Nigerian nationals, with participating in this scheme.

Much more than just a “romance scam.”

As detailed in the February 2019 BBB study, Fall in Love – Go to Jail: BBB Report on How Some Romance Fraud Victims Become Money Mules 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. Victims unknowingly launder money from other victims by receiving stolen money or goods and sending them on to fraudsters who are often out of the country. This occurs when the romance scam victim has no money or has already given all of their money to the scammer. The victim may be a willing accomplice or may have a variety of other motives such as love, fear, or financial compensation. By providing this type of aid to the fraudster the victim implicates themselves to a variety of other frauds, making it harder for law enforcement to identify the real perpetrator.

How do you protect yourself?

The best way to avoid becoming a money mule is to simply not fall for a romance fraud at the outset.

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.

  • BBB has tips on how to avoid becoming a romance fraud victim.
  • If you suspect you may be involved with a fraud as a money mule, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspectorsencourage 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.
Where to file complaints about romance fraud and online dating scams
Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker: This heat map shows scams reported in your community or anywhere in North America.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-help: The FTC database of fraud complaints is available on line to more than 3000 law enforcement agencies. Because it contains a great deal of personal information on fraud victims it is not available to the general public. It can be searched fairly easily by law enforcement officials and may well locate several victims defrauded by the same person.
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): The FBI’s IC3 takes law enforcement complaints about romance fraud. This group collaborates with law enforcement and cybercrime support organizations to guide and support cybercrime victims through the reporting and recovering efforts, and then to provide information and resources on how to protect against future incidents.
Senate Aging Committee Fraud Hotline: Anyone with information about suspected romance or online dating fraud aimed at seniors can contact investigators at 1-855-303-9470 or through its website.
Western Union: Victims who have sent money through Western Union should complain directly to them at 1-800-448-1492.
MoneyGram: Victims who have sent money through MoneyGram should notify them directly at 1-800-926-9400.