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February 13, 2023

When hearts and piggybanks are both broken

In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received about 56,000 romance scam complaints, involving $547 million.

Scammers have mastered seeming genuine, caring, and convincing to take advantage of the lonely and kindhearted. Scammers target victims via dating profile apps, game apps, or via social media.

The potential love interest, fraudster, may claim to live in another country or is overseas for business or deployment. The fraudster will be eager to get to know their victim and will typically usher the conversations to a private platform like email or a chat app.

As the communication goes on, naturally the attachment grows and emotions get involved. The victim and the fraudster may make plans to meet in person or start their future together, but an emergency or some excuse always arises.

As a result of the emergency or excuse, the fraudster asks their victim to send money and with urgency - usually via gift cards, prepaid debit cards, cryptocurrency, or a bank or wire transfer. The fraudster may promise to pay the money back, but they won’t.

Money mule twist

Newer twists in romance scams involve the victim agreeing to help transfer money for the fraudster. If the victim agrees, they become a money mule for the fraudster.

Money Mule: A money mule is someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. Criminals recruit money mules to help launder proceeds derived from online scams and frauds or crimes like human trafficking and drug trafficking. Money mules add layers of distance between crime victims and criminals, which makes it harder for law enforcement to accurately trace money trails. (Source:

The fraudster will claim the money is from an inheritance or business funding – but really these credits or checks are sourced from other compromised accounts that the fraudster is stealing from.

They will ask the victim to send them the cash or purchase gift cards and send it to them.

Again, the fraudster may promise to pay the money back, but they won’t and the victim will be at the financial loss for any money sent.

The fraudster will stay in contact with their victim as long as they continue to get money, once the money stops the fraudster, the love interest will disappear.

Best practices to avoid a romance scam:

  • Talk to family and friends about new relationships and pay attention if they have concerns.
  • Stop contact immediately if it becomes apparent the individual may be a fraudster.
  • Notify the dating site or the maker of the dating app or platform the contact originated.
  • Refuse to send cash, purchase cryptocurrency or gift cards or put money on a reloadable debit card for someone you've only interacted with online.
  • Remember: anyone can pretend to be anyone online.