A large percentage of now-married couples in Pennsylvania met initially online through dating websites or social media. Online dating is now the most popular way for couples to meet. However, there are risks involved. Perhaps the biggest risks are becoming the victim of romance fraud and subsequently getting drawn into a money-laundering scheme.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that romance fraud was the most commonly reported type of consumer fraud in its Consumer Sentinel Network in 2018. More than 21,000 individual reports described Americans losing a total of $143 million. Since 2015, reports of romance fraud collected in Consumer Sentinel has more than doubled. However, it is not clear whether this means it is occurring more frequently or more consumers are reporting it.
Alleged fraudsters will frequently contact their targets initially through dating websites and social media platforms. They will pull random photos from the internet and build fake profiles around them. Purveyors of social media and dating websites have grown wise to these techniques and will remove the accounts when they discover them. Before that happens, however, Forbes reports that the alleged scammers will convince the victims to connect with them via messaging applications like Google Hangouts or WhatsApp.
Often working from a pre-prepared script, the alleged scheme involves sweet-talking the victim with words of love and commitment, accelerating the relationship quickly by claiming that destiny caused the two to meet. Once the victim invests in the relationship, the alleged scammer will ask for money for what sounds like a legitimate reason: they need money for a medical procedure, to buy a computer to keep in touch or to travel to see the victim. About 10% of targeted individuals comply with the request. Those who refuse may endure manipulative or abusive treatment from the alleged scammer.
Another technique is to obtain bank account information from the victim, transfer money into the account and then ask the victim to send it back. The money is typically the product of illegal activity. By asking the victim to send it back, the alleged fraudster is involving the victim in money laundering. If authorities discover the scheme, the unwitting participant could potentially face criminal charges.