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BBB warns romantic scams are a growing problem

Steve Eighinger Herald-Whig - 19-02-24
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Maynooth University in Co Kildare
Beware of Romance Scams. Don't be a mule.

The Better Business Bureau is warning about some growing trends on dating websites.

Not only are fraudsters manipulating their victims out of money, there is an increasing number of scams that turn their targets into unwitting accomplices to fraud. The new-age victims are being identified by the term "money mules."

In 2018, the BBB issued an in-depth investigative study on romance scams, describing how fraudsters target people who are looking for romance. The organization's follow-up study -- "Fall in Love, Go to Jail: A BBB Report on How Romance Fraud Victims Become Money Mules" -- describes how fraudsters then exploit that relationship further.

The report digs into the scope of the problem, who is behind it and the need for law enforcement and consumer education to address the issue.

"The money mule phenomenon adds insult to injury for romance scam victims," said Mara Clingingsmith, Quincy regional director of the BBB. "After losing money and dignity to fraudsters they believed were loving romantic partners, these victims find themselves tangled in a web of even more serious crimes, possibly facing consequences themselves.

"Law enforcement and educators should work together to expose and stop these scams to help unwitting fraud victims avoid being re-victimized."

Love scammers

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 latest BBB report, "money mules" now number in the thousands, acting as financial middlemen in a variety of scams. Those scams range from laundering funds from other victims by receiving money or goods purchased with stolen credit cards and sending them to the fraudsters -- often out of the country.

In too deep

This kind of activity often happens when the romance scam victim has no money or already has given all of his or her 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 assistance to the fraudster, the victim aids and abets a variety of other frauds, muddying the scope of a fraud and the identity of the real perpetrator.

According to the latest BBB report, cybersecurity experts have traced the bulk of online romance scams to Nigeria, though Nigerian nationals operating these frauds are based in several countries around the world, including the U.S.

The same groups involved in romance scams frequently operate other frauds on a worldwide scale. One expert reports that at any given time, there may be more than 25,000 scammers online with victims.

They said it

ยบ New York Times: "Americans lost $143 million to romance scams last year. The total loss has more than quadrupled since 2015. While those reports accounted for only 1.5 percent of all fraud tracked by (government officials), no other type of scam wreaked as much financial havoc as those rooted in romance."


Tags: dating websites, money mules, romance scams, romantic partners, fraudsters, BBB, cybersecurity

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