The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that bad actors are using dating scams in an attempt to recruit money mules.
According to the FBI, bad actors first attempt to gain a potential victim’s trust and lead them to believe that they’re in a legitimate relationship. They’ll then abuse that sense of connection to trick the victim into sending over money. Sometimes, the attackers will even recruit the victim as a money mule.
The FBI explains how this works in a public service announcement (PSA):
Actors groom their victims over time and convince them to open bank accounts under the guise of sending or receiving funds…. These accounts 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.
Other times, the malefactors will assume the identity of an American or European living abroad. They’ll then use the promise of a lucrative business opportunity to pressure the victim into registering a limited liability company and opening a bank account so that they can send and receive money between accounts operated by the nefarious individuals.
Such “dating scams” have proved extremely lucrative for digital criminals over the past few years. By operating on LinkedIn and elsewhere, romance scams caused $230 million in losses to victims in 2016. Those losses decreased slightly to $211 million in 2017 before shooting up to $362 million in 2018, per the FBI’s PSA.
Users can prevent themselves from falling victim to a dating scam by being on the lookout for suspicious behavior on dating sites. These indicators include immediate requests to talk outside of the dating website along with claims to be living/working outside of the United States despite being from there. If they come across anything of suspicion, they should reverse image search the sender’s profile picture to determine if they reused an image from someone else’s social media account, all while refusing to provide the individual with personal information, financial data or money. They should then consider reporting the scam to the FBI at www.ic3.gov.