How online dating could turn you into a criminal


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The following is a news release from the Better Business Bureau.

IDAHO FALLS – If you’re single, dating can be a real challenge. Online dating is becoming an increasingly popular way to date. Many dating sites report a surge in activity in the days around Valentine’s Day. But, behind many dating profiles lurk scammers who are ready to dupe users into believing they have found love. Romance fraudsters want to steal their money or make them unwitting accomplices in fraud.

In the the last three years, the Better Business Bureau received 636 Scam Tracker reports related to romance fraud, some of these coming from eastern Idaho. A study from the BBB describes the inner workings of how fraudsters target those looking for romance.

It may take months for scammers to build trusting relationships with victims before asking for money, usually for an emergency or transportation. These con artists aren’t just in it to steal from their victim but turn that victim into a money mule to commit crimes. Money first passes to the money mules, who then transfer it to the fraudsters, often outside of the country. This tactic makes it more difficult to find those responsible for fraud.

In most cases, there is no desire to take criminal action against unwitting participants who had no financial gain and who stop transferring money for crooks as soon as they realize the role they have been playing.

Terrill Caplan of Fraud Aid, a fraud victim advocacy organization, has spent more than a decade working with law enforcement, often helping romance fraud victims who have been used as money mules.

Twenty to 30 percent of romance victims were used as money mules in 2018, according to Caplan. These victims number in the thousands. He says most victims do not realize they are aiding in illegal activity.

Money mules have become so widespread that in November 2018 the U.S. Department of Justice announced a major initiative to concentrate on this problem. Legal actions, including prosecutions, warning letters, and search warrants, were taken against more than 400 money mules across the country.

These frauds include not only romance frauds, but also business email compromise fraud, fake check frauds, grandparent frauds, and stolen identity refund frauds that involve filing bogus tax returns. It is believed that the same gangs that commit these frauds also are involved in illegal drug trade and other serious crimes.

For more details on how these con artists groom their money mules, click here.

Many of you may be celebrating Valentine’s Day after the fact. Jeremy Johnson with the Better Business Bureau in Idaho Falls, tells some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind before making plans with your loved one. Listen to the interview below.