AUSTIN (KXAN) — In February 2018, BBB issued an in-depth investigative study on romance scams, describing how fraudsters target people who are looking for romance.
BBB’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. It digs into the scope of the problem, who is behind it and the need for law enforcement and consumer education to address the issue.
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 new BBB report, 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, 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. This often happens when the romance scam victim has no money or already has given all of their 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 aid to the fraudster instead, the victim aids and abets a variety of other frauds, muddying the scope of a fraud and the identity of the real perpetrator.
Read the full report here.