The Better Business Bureau reports that with Valentine’s Day comes a surge of activity on dating websites, with singles looking to the internet for a love connection. But sometimes these sites can be “filled” with scammers who use affection to manipulate their victims out of money. A new BBB report finds online romance scams can also turn victims into unwitting accomplices.
“The number of romance scams submitted to the FTC has doubled over the past couple of years, so it’s a real problem.”
Troy Baker, Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan says their studies reveal a leap from the traditional romance scam. That’s where a person gets into an online relationship… generally the other party is overseas. Once the relationship is growing, they start asking for money; taking as much money as they can before they’re busted. But in some cases, Baker says it goes a step further.
“What our report looks at is the next step; they many not ask for money, but favors. The favor being, can I have some packages sent to your house or can I have some checks sent to you. And what is happening is, you have become the middleman for various scams.”
Baker says with love and romance at the center, victims get caught up in criminal activity and could even end up facing charges. A woman in Kent County came close.
“This woman thought she’d found a relationship online. The guy kept promising he’d visit, and he never did. But she received packages: laptops and Rolex watches and she shipped them on. Eventually she got caught because one of the victims notified Kent County Sheriffs and the prosecutor looked at it. He chose not to prosecute because she didn’t have intent and didn’t really know what was going on.”
But Baker says an 80 year old Florida woman wasn’t as lucky as she faces criminal charges for her involvement in one of these scams. Baker says if you’re invested in an online relationship and become concerned about romance fraud don’t be embarrassed. Come forward.
“It’s understandably embarrassing, and I know that you’re probably afraid of what police might say, but you need to report it to police, to the FBI, the FTC, the BBB; we need to inform others and make sure other people don’t fall victim as well.”
And as always, Baker says you can report any concerns on their website at BBB.org.