Warning: Scammers are recruiting Money Mules through online dating sites

If you are frequently using dating apps, you might wanna be more vigilant now that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned people that there is a rising trend of cybercriminals using people they meet online through online dating apps as money mules in an operation they called “Confidence/Romance Fraud.”

In a press release, the FBI warned users of dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Match.com that they could fall victims by cybercriminals who use online dating platforms in order to scout prospect money mules that they can use to launder money for their illicit activities.

A confidence or romance fraud, according to the FBI, happens when the threat actors, this time the cybercriminals, are deceiving people into believing a pretense like being in a relationship, romantic or familial, and leveraging that make-believe relationship to persuade the victim to send money, provide personal and financial information, or purchase items of value for the actor. In this case, the FBI said that cybercriminals are persuading people into laundering money on their behalf.

Cybercriminals use different plots to tell their stories to their potential victims and to gain their trust. FBI said that they often pose as U.S. citizens living in a different country, or a U.S. army deployed overseas. Some are even tricking their victims into believing that they are business owners who are looking for partners, offering them “lucrative investments.”

 FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has already received more than 35,000 reports from victims alleging that they were victims of confidence/romance fraud with 18,000 cases reported in 2018 alone. In the same year, the reported cases of confidence/romance fraud have garnered more than $362 million in losses—an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year.

“In 2018, confidence/romance fraud was the seventh most commonly reported scam to the IC3 based on the number of complaints received, and the second-costliest scam in terms of victim loss,” the press release reveals.

The reported victims come in all ages, gender, education, and income brackets. However, the FBI says that the most common targets are older women and those that have recently lost their spouses as they are most vulnerable to romance-related scams.

In the said press release, the FBI detailed how cybercriminals are scamming their victims into giving them money or laundering money for them. The law enforcement agency said that once the threat actor gained victims’ trust, they ask them for money for airfare to visit, or claim they are in trouble and need cash. And the vulnerable victim will usually submit to the requests of the fraudster thinking that they are in a relationship.

“For example, an actor claims to be a U.S. citizen living abroad. After a few months of building a relationship with the victim, the actor asks the victim to send gifts or electronics to an international address. After a few more months, the actor expresses a desire to return to the U.S. to meet the victim. The actor claims not to have the money to pay for travel and asks the victim to wire funds. In some cases, the actor claims the wired funds did not arrive and asks the victim to resend the money,” the press release reads.

The growing trend, however, is that confidence/romance fraudsters don’t settle on extorting money from their victims anymore. Instead, they now use them to be part of their illegal activities by tricking them into laundering money on their behalf. FBI says that cybercriminals unknowingly recruit their victims as “money mules.”

Instead of asking for money, the scammers are grooming potential mules over time and ask them to open a bank account in the guise of sending and receiving funds. Unbeknownst to the unsuspecting victim, the accounts they opened in their name are used to facilitate criminal activities for a short period of time. If the account is flagged by the financial institution, it may be closed and the actor will either direct the victim to open a new account or begin grooming a new victim.

In some cases, a European or overseas American scammer will use the ruse of having big-time investors in their “business,” but they need an American bank account to facilitate payment. Little does the victim know that it’s all a ploy to launder money.

In the end, the Federal Bureau of Investigation encourages everyone to be vigilant and avoid arbitrarily trusting people they meet online who ask for money or for them to open accounts. You can read the full tips on how to avoid falling victim to confidence/romance fraud in the FBI website.

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