Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building A Digital Defense Against Romance Scams

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(Photo | Courtesy of FBI-Oregon)

To get you in the mood for the mushy gushy day that is Valentine’s, we want to share a little love story with you… a love story gone very, very wrong.

An older gentleman — looking for love — picks a pretty well-known dating website and starts the hunt.

He finds what he believes to be a nice woman living in Africa. They text and chat online for months, falling hopelessly for each other. It’s at this point that the girlfriend proposes – not marriage, but a partnership. They can make some money while their love continues to grow. He agrees, and he helps by providing her with some seed money for their import/export business.

Many romance scams end at this point, but, unfortunately, this story continues on. Over time, the girlfriend asks him to set up multiple corporations in Oregon and open several dozen accounts at different banks. So-called customers would send the gentleman money, which he would manage and then wire out of the country per her instructions. Over the course of about two years, investigators believe the gentleman wired more than a million dollars to bank accounts in Africa and China.

So who were those “customers”? Turns out that they, themselves, were victims of romance scams. People from all over America thought they had found online love with U.S. military or government contractors living overseas. When they wired the older gentleman money, they thought they were sending it to their new girlfriends and boyfriends.

How does this story end? Unfortunately, not well. Law enforcement officers found out about the scam and warned the gentleman that both his business and his girlfriend were phony. Love is a powerful motivator, though, and he continued to receive money from other victims and send it to fraudsters in other countries.

In the end, the gentleman ended up pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering and now must pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

So, how do you keep Cupid on the up-and-up? Here are a few warning signs to watch for:

  • Your new beau presses you to leave a dating website where you met to communicate solely through email or instant messaging.
  • She sends you a photo that looks like a glamour shot out of a magazine.
  • He professes love quickly and tries to isolate you from friends and family.
  • She claims to be working and living far away — whether that’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
  • He makes plans to visit you but then always has to cancel because of some emergency.
  • She asks for money or your help moving money.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, report it to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.

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