Valentine’s Day Scam Victims Not Uncommon

Believe it or not, Valentine’s Day may be a day that brings attention to a number of scams and other illegal activity.

The Better Business Bureau says that romance-related scams come with the territory on Valentine’s Day.

There’s a surge of activity on dating websites and apps, with singles who are looking for love. 

The BBB of West Michigan says there may be fraudsters who are scamming those who are just scanning social media for a love connection.

President and CEO Phil Catlett says victims become what’s known as “money mules” – people who are targeted and exploited by a phony romance.

Scammers often use fake profiles and false identities to gain trust, sometimes over many months.

Experts say the victim feels it may be a budding relationship, but it in time the other side asks for money for emergencies, travel expenses or uses the victim as a financial middleman in a scam or illegal activity.

Phil Catlett says, “Unfortunately we’re so emotional that we can fall in love with somebody online that we’ve never met. We go for a dream. We become very vulnerable as a result. And we want to believe so strongly that something is true that we go along with requests that if we were a little bit skeptical, we wouldn’t.”

He adds, “It’s not a big leap, and I think that’s what the criminals understand, it’s not a big leap at all to go from falling in love with somebody you’ve never met… to being asked to commit a crime on their behalf and not really thinking through what you’re doing.”

Catlett says people who use dating apps and websites should keep their guard up.

“Most of these criminals will try to take it off of the dating site into a private chat as quickly as possible so they can continue to perpetuate the crime. If they stay on the platform of the dating website the people that run the website can track them down and have a record of what they’ve done.”

Catlett says due to feeling embarrassed, most victims don’t come forward.

“You add levels on to that of falling in love with someone you’ve never met, or losing your savings, you think so little of yourself that you’re so embarrassed and you don’t want anyone to know.”

But he says that’s why people need to come forward.  Romance fraud has doubled between 2015 and 2018, and nationwide it accounts for losses of $143 million.

Tips from the BBB:

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. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), romance fraud has biggest losses of any fraud area they track. In 2018 the FTC received 21,000 complaints with losses of $143 million. The number of romance scam complaints to the FTC doubled between 2015 and 2018.

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.

The scams and crimes in which money mules may become embroiled include business email compromises, fake check scams (the subject of an in-depth BBB investigative study in 2018), credit card reshipping, grandparent scams and even illegal drug transportation. These frauds have in common that the money mules frequently are romance scam victims.