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New BBB Study: Romance Scams and Fraud

From The Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia:

A new BBB report finds, online romance scams often escalate as scammers turn their victims into unwitting accomplices known as “money mules.”

Over the past 12 months BBB issued two reports. The first, an in-depth investigative study on romance scams, describing how fraudsters target people looking for romance. The second study, “Fall in Love – Go to Jail: A BBB Report on How Romance Fraud Victims Become Money Mules,” describes how fraudsters can exploit that relationship further (report here), and it include recommendations for education and resources for victims.

As detailed in the original study, romance scammers typically contact their victims through dating websites, apps, or social media, using fake profiles and even stolen credit card information. After months of grooming, scammers begin asking for money to handle an emergency or travel expenses. The financial damage inflicted by these scams, often accompanied by far greater emotional harm on the victim, is often just the tip of the iceberg. According to the newest BBB report, 20-30% of romance scam victims in 2018 eventually became “money mules.”

Money mules act as unwitting 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. The victim may have a variety of motives, but the outcome is the same. By providing this type of aid to the scammer, the victim aids and abets other frauds, muddying the scope of the scam 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, credit card reshipping, grandparent scams, and even illegal drug transportation. Money mules frequently are romance scam victims. As law enforcement cracks down and prosecutes more and more of these scams’ perpetrators, money mules have been prosecuted, fined and jailed as well.

“The money mule phenomenon adds insult to injury for romance scam victims,” said Barry N. Moore, President & CEO of BBB serving Central Virginia. “After losing money and personal dignity to fraudsters they believed were going to become loving partners, these victims find themselves tangled in a web of crimes that too often results in their own prosecution and even prison,” added Moore.

According to the new BBB report, cybersecurity experts have traced the bulk of online romance scams to Nigeria, but they can originate from anywhere in the world. The same criminals involved in romance scams frequently operate other frauds on a worldwide scale. In addition, law enforcement officials say that Jamaican groups that operate sweepstakes and lottery frauds have begun running romance frauds as well, using those victims to help launder money from sweepstakes and lottery fraud victims.

What to do if you are the victim of a romance scam: Complain to; report the fraud to Report it to law enforcement: Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-Help; the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3; 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.

Editor’s Note: Moore is the President and CEO of BBB serving Central Virginia and can be reached at (804) 648-0030 or [email protected] for additional comment.

About BBB: BBB serving Central Virginia serves Richmond, the Tri-Cities, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg, as well as 42 surrounding counties from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest, and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of BBB include business profiles, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, consumer and business education, and charity review.

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