Money Mule: How Not to Be One?

FTC warns the public of online romance scammers that can turn them into "Money Mules"

online fraud

Because of the way we are subjected to various romance stories and movies, more and more people are getting hooked on online romance scams. The situation is so dire that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had to react, telling the public to steer clear of online romance scams.

According to the agency, this type of fraud reached a record high in 2021, when people reported $547 million in losses. Overall, the amount of money individuals lost over the last five years to romance scams is estimated to be around $1.3 billion — which is more than any other FTC fraud category.

“Romance scammers weave all sorts of believable stories to con people, but their old standby involves pleas for help while claiming one financial or health crisis after another,” the agency wrote. “People who lost money to a romance scammer often report sending money repeatedly: they believe they’re helping someone they care about. But it’s all a lie.”

On average, people caught in this type of scam lost about $2,400 in 2021, and a big chunk of that money came in the form of cryptocurrency — which accounted for $139 million in losses. The biggest form of payment to the scammers was gift cards.

The FTC went on to say that scammers find many people on dating apps, although some report being contacted on social media via unexpected private messages. In 2021, more than one-third of people who claimed they lost money to an online romance scam said it began on Facebook or Instagram.

In addition to the common cry for help, scammers also asked their victims to help them transfer money for various shady purposes, such as getting their inheritance money or closing a business deal.

“Stories like this often set people up to become ‘money mules’ – they may think they’re just helping, but they’re really laundering stolen funds,” the agency wrote. “These stories are also used to trick people into sending their own money.”

In the latter cases, some victims end up paying fake fees to accept money that scammers never really sent. Others deposit a check from their scammer lovers and then send them money, only to find out that the check was fake.

Now, you may wonder, is all of online dating a scam? We don’t think so and we do know quite a few people that made it work for them. Alas, they never sent money to people they have never physically met before — and that’s the advice we want to share as well.

And it’s not just we, FTC also says you should know that no legitimate love interest will ask you to send them money.

In addition, you should also do some research about the people you meet online. Search for them online and see what the Internet “has to say” about the individual you’re meeting in the virtual world. A reverse-image search can help you find out if your new love interest is a scammer or not.

And finally, use your brain. As the saying goes, if something is too good to be true – chances are, that is indeed the case. Stay safe.