Romance scams are not limited to Valentine's Day

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MONROE, La (KNOE) - Romance scams are not limited to Valentine's Day, so be smart about who you connect with, and save yourself the worry about Cupid's arrow striking your wallet instead of your heart! In February 2018, BBB issued an in-depth investigative study on romance scams, describing how fraudsters target people who are looking for romance. Tell us about the 2019 follow-up study.

Courtesy: MGN Online

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.

There are simple patterns and complexities unraveling! Romance scammers typically contact their victims through dating websites, apps or social media, most often using fake profiles created with 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.

Romance victims are emotionally vulnerable. They innocently become "money mules" and act as financial middlemen in a variety of scams like laundering money from other victims. They have also got into drug and sex trafficking often taking them out of the country. This 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 for 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.

Money mules may be prosecuted facing jail time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution payments.

How widespread is the problem?

According to the new BBB report, 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 at any given time of the day or night just in the US.

How do romance fraud victims become Money Mules?

These are some things you can do to avoid "falling in jail instead of love":
• Never send money or personal information that can be used for identity theft to someone you've never met in person.
• Never give someone your credit card information to book a ticket to visit you.
• Cut off contact if someone starts asking you for information like credit card, bank, or government ID numbers.
• Ask specific questions about details given in a profile. A scammer may stumble over remembering details or making a story fit.
• Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the web to use in their profiles.
• You can do a reverse image lookup using a website like tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos on a profile are stolen from somewhere else.
• You can also search online for a profile name, email, or phone number to see what adds up and what doesn't.

How can victims help themselves and others?

If you are the victim of a romance scam stop all contact immediately and report what you know.
● Report the fraud to bbb.org/scamtracker
● Report details to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call 877-FTC-Help
● Report shared internet contact to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3
● Report all suspicious activity to 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.