Could you have fallen for a cybercriminal’s fraudulent romance scam and been a money mule, without ever being asked for a dime? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s August 2019 PSA, the answer might be yes! Data from the DOJ backs up these findings, as there has been a recent arrest of 80 romance scammers who stole millions from Americans.
Unlike being a drug mule, you won’t need to smuggle drugs across a border or even know that you’ve been tricked. If you don’t want to be recruited by fraudsters to launder money, this is how to avoid becoming an innocent victim tricked by their “romance playbook.”
Romance Scammers Playbook
Although you will think you’re falling in love with a caring, feeling human, scammers treat their romance scams like sales jobs. They use scammer scripts from a so-called romance scammers playbook. These scripts contain written prompts on what they should say and how to respond in every situation.
If you tell them you’re widowed, they have a scripted reply. If you ask about their hobbies, they have the perfect answer ready to send. When a cyber actor is in grooming mode, these prompted communications will be frequent and emotionally intense. Although it seems as though a cyber actor is a perfect man or woman, all they had to do was copy/paste ready made answers into an email or text.
Their positive affirmations suggest endless devotion because they need to fabricate a trusting relationship. This con must be completed within a short period of time so that they can use you for illegal monetary dealings. Once you believe you are in a serious relationship, they’ll either ask you for money as part of a romance scam or convince you to become a money mule.
They won’t use those terms and will have many excuses as to why they need you to transfer money or buy gift cards. Most victims have no idea these scams are happening to them and trust their cyber actor is their one true love.
What Will Money Mules Be Asked to Do?
Cyber tricksters will offer to mail you cash and ask you to buy online gift cards and send them the codes. Or, they might say they are in a legal bind and ask you to open bank accounts and give them access. Victims often believe this is legit as the cyber actors deposit their funds and pay for transfers.
They could claim that they want to visit the United States, from Europe or abroad, and will be able to if you participate in a lucrative business opportunity. All they need if a US bank to receive funds, i.e., your account. They will ask you to register a limited liability company or bank account.
Once you do this, they will send money to and from your account, to other accounts. They may even buy gift cards, or add money to internet accounts they are the recipient of.
Many times, money launderers will send money to victims’ accounts who are falling for the same scam you are! They want a complicated paper trail to reduce suspicion with the Feds.
How to Protect Yourself from Romance Scams
If you are concerned that you’ve been conned as a money mule, you aren’t alone. Just how prevalent are confidence and romance scams? Ask the 18,000 people who filed with the FBI. complaints in 2018 and lost more than $362 million!
Be aware that these romance scams can begin when you are using a website or app for dating, playing a game, or connecting with others through social media. A cyber actor doesn’t care where they find you online, as long as you’re an excellent candidate to launder money.
How Does the FBI Get All of This Data on Romance Scams?
The IC3 or Internet Crime Complaint Center is a specialized division of the FBI. that is geared toward investigating and reporting the hottest criminal trends and most menacing online crimes. Their mission is to give the public a way to report suspected illegal internet activity conveniently and, subsequently, provide detailed, analyzed data to law enforcement and the public. As the central hub to receive and handle these severe criminal issues, their hope is education.
However, many people still don’t want to tell others when they’ve been tricked. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve fallen for this type of scam, as it regularly happens to intelligent, savvy consumers. Take action and file a complaint with the IC3.
Staying safe online can happen with education and awareness. Worried about friends and family who online date or know someone you think was scammed? Share this article and keep them from falling for a cyber actor’s newest con!