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BBB Says Watch Out For Romance Scams This Time Of Year

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - With Valentine's day coming up Thursday, the Better Business Bureau is sending out an important reminder about "romance scams." The organization says roughly a million people in the United States alone have fallen victim to romance fraud. Over the past three years, victims in the U.S. and Canada have lost more than a billion dollars. 

Jessie Schmidt, the Director of Better Business Bureau South Dakota, says a lot of people fall in love online these days but some relationships aren't real. 

"And then what we found out is that there's an even darker side," Schmidt said. 

On top of scamming people, who think they're in love, out of money, the scammers are now turning those victims into money mules. Twenty to 30-percent of romance fraud victims are becoming mules. Here's an example. 

"That he now has investors in this enterprise that he's got and they're going to be sending money to her and she needs to open a bank account and wire him some money. The minute that happens then they're involved in a money laundering scheme and now they're a criminal," Schmidt said. 

It's happening weekly in South Dakota according to Jody Gillaspie with the Attorney General's office.  

"Once they've been made aware of that they're no longer a victim. That's what we need to make everyone clear on. When you're doing that money laundering, it's illegal," Gillaspie said. 

Gillaspie says at first you're a victim but if you continue to help the scammer, you could face state and federal charges. The best thing to do, contact the authorities. 

"We know that they're embarrassed by the transactions that have taken place but they may be saving somebody else the same fate that they've dealt with," Gillaspie said. 

The BBB says you shouldn't rush into online relationships. Don't keep them a secret from friends and family. You should also do internet searches of your romantic partner's name and picture and look through their messages for repeating phrases, misspellings or misuse of words.

"At the end of the day, there's so much good happening around these online sites. Just be cautious," Schmidt said. 

Schmidt says the crime often happens to women. She says to watch out for scammers who ask you to use prepaid credit cards or to pick up money at Western Union or MoneyGram and forward it somewhere else. 

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