Jesse Jones

Jesse Jones: How to protect yourself from ‘romance scams’

Last year Americans lost more than $1 billion to romance scams. Now scammers are using them for more than just conning you out of cash.

The BBB recently issued a warning about a new kind of scam that could not only cost you - but also get you into legal trouble.

”Romance scams have become an increasing problem. And what we’ve seen over the years is that there’s a lot of different variations to those. So, one of the latest ones we’ve seen has really been related to money laundering,” says Ben Spradling, Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau.

Rather than asking you to send them funds the scammer offers you money.

“They’ll have somebody who wants to be that sugar mama or sugar daddy where they want to take care of their cost of living, want to take care of their bills,” says Spradling.

You may then be asked to send a portion along to a needy friend or to donate to a fraudulent charity and that can get you into hot water.

If you are caught moving stolen funds you become what’s called a ‘money mule.’

Being a money mule is a punishable crime, even if you are unaware. And you may be held personally liable for repaying money lost by victims.

“Whenever you become a money mule for somebody, that means you are basically part of the money laundering equation. You’re helping move that money for them,” Spradling said.

But the BBB says in most cases those funds will never make it into your account and you’ll become a victim yourself.  

“Before those funds get placed in there, they’re asking the individual to send some additional money to someone else so you can have the rest of the check. And the reality is that money doesn’t. None of the money is coming, and you’ve lost that portion,” Spradling said.

If you believe you are or have been involved in a money mule scheme, here’s what to do:

  1. Stop all communication.
  2. Keep receipts and chats.
  3. Stop transferring money.
  4. Notify your bank.
  5. Notify the FBI.

Spradling says the bottom line is that love and money don’t mix.

When it comes to some of these dating apps and dating platforms, at least not early on. A lot of these bad actors, they want to have that conversation within the first couple of weeks. And that is a huge red flag to let you know that maybe love isn’t in the cards with that individual,” Spradling said.