Romance Scam and Money Laundering – The so-called Romance Scam starts quite harmlessly with a short chat or a nice email from a stranger. Scammers use fake profiles on online dating sites and social media to find victims for this modern form of marriage scam. They invent bizarre life stories to attract the attention of their prey.

While some men claim to be architects or engineers, other men and women pose as nurses or teachers. Before a personal meeting takes place, the perpetrators invent an alleged emergency.

From the fraud victims they ask for financial support or the transaction of other people’s money to them. This constitutes money laundering and is legally a criminal offence.

Table of contents

  1. Romance Scam and Money Laundering – Experiences & Examples
  2. Dating app crime scene: Tinder and Co.
  3. False love – real fraud 
  4. Money laundering & romance scamming: from victim to perpetrator
  5. Scams: Internet dating tricks
  6. Romance scam – the reports are piling up
  7. Targeted use of real identities
  8. Localising perpetrators is possible
  9. Romance Scam & Money Laundering: How to Protect Yourself

Our lawyers at the Herfurtner law firm inform you about the danger of romance scams in connection with money laundering offences. Furthermore, we offer comprehensive legal advice to victims of fraud.

Romance Scam and Money Laundering – Experiences & Examples

In connection with Romance Scam, more and more often victims of fraud involuntarily become perpetrators themselves and become liable to prosecution for money laundering.

This was also the case with a 53-year-old man who transferred a total of 10,000 euros in several amounts to various accounts abroad to help his internet girlfriend out of an alleged emergency situation. The woman claimed that she had received an inheritance.

In order to access the inheritance, fees would have to be paid and the man would have to do this via his account, as the woman apparently did not have a corresponding account. After paying in cash, the man was supposed to send the money to an online acquaintance via a payment service provider.

In fact, the bank account was soon filled with cash. According to the information available, however, these funds were obtained by illegal means. The man handed over the money to his supposed girlfriend, which constitutes the criminal offence of money laundering.

Scene of the crime: Tinder and Co.

Internet dating portals, Facebook and other social media sites are common places where victims and perpetrators of “romance scam or love scamming” make first contact. The scammers use attention and expressions of affection to gain the trust of their victims.

Once trust is established, they pretend to be in a financial emergency due to an unexpected event and to have no way to get their own money. Since they are emotionally dependent on the perpetrator, the victims transfer money to his account abroad. Most of the time, the demand for money does not stop there.

Instead, the perpetrators continue to exploit the victim financially and emotionally, inventing new and more outrageous claims.

Tinder scams and crypto trading

Increasingly, the lawyers of the Herfurtner law firm are observing a fraud scheme in connection with dating apps and the trading of cryptocurrencies. In this Tinder scam, a person first introduces himself via the dating app. After initial small talk, the conversation is supposed to take place via another messenger, such as WhatsApp.

The contact person talks about crypto trading and online trading as their hobbies and tells them about their supposed winnings. After the interest has been aroused in the other person, they receive a link to an online trading platform on which they should open a trading account.

These platforms are dubious providers who fraudulently collect customers’ money and never pay out profits. The funds are often deposited in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The process is accompanied by a “trading group” in WhatsApp, in which a so-called “teacher” gives supposed trading tips.

In general, the police advise against transferring money to people whose identity is questionable. This is the best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim yourself or getting involved in fraud or money laundering.

To recognise fraudsters, you need more information than just a phone number, an address and maybe even a copy of an ID. Because the perpetrators can easily forge this, too.

False love – real fraud

Frauds in which love is misused for nefarious purposes are commonplace in Germany. The financial damage caused is immense and runs into hundreds of thousands. The victims, mainly women, are deliberately and unknowingly exploited for criminal purposes.

Recently, an unsuspecting 34-year-old biology lab technician from Hamburg was also a victim of Love Scam. Twice her Tinder flirt tricked the young woman into transferring money in her name to a suspicious Iranian bank account. In this way, the actual victim also became a perpetrator against her will.

She had met her boyfriend on the dating app Tinder. They even met in person. For the young woman, nothing pointed to a scam. Finally, he asked her for help in transferring money to Iran. He transferred an amount of money to the woman’s account, which was indicated as a salary.

Thereupon the Hamburg woman transferred the money further to an Iranian bank account. The money, however, was obtained in a dubious manner. The perpetrator or possibly one of his accomplices had previously defrauded a 60-year-old woman from Lübeck of more than 8,000 euros using a different fraud technique.

When the 34-year-old woman found out about this through the police, her alleged admirer with the Persian surname had already gone into hiding.

How victims become perpetrators

Similarly, a 42-year-old woman was involved in a disturbing case of so-called Romance Scam in connection with the criminal offence of money laundering. The woman allegedly transferred a total of 72,000 euros to an account via her bank account.

Her role was that of an intermediary between her cousin and her cousin’s virtual partner, an alleged American soldier in Afghanistan.

Both women were told a dramatic story of lies: the soldier wanted to take early retirement because of psychological problems, wanted to “buy his way out” of his active service and needed large sums of money for required documents. To help her cousin, the 42-year-old finally decided to use her savings.

Love at first click: Internet dating tricks

Love has the unfortunate tendency to blind its victims. More and more people have to learn this when they fall victim to scammers on online dating platforms and lose their money. Love scams are in high demand. Many lonely people get to know each other online, but scammers and their victims also find each other this way.

The victims are not infrequently driven to complete financial ruin. Shame and hurt feelings unfortunately often lead to victims of scams not filing criminal charges or seeking help from a lawyer.

Romance Scam: more and more reports of love scams

The prevalence of online romance scams, often referred to as “romance scamming”, is alarming. Since July 2019, “Romance Scamming” has been a focus topic of the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office. On average, about 20,000 euros are transferred per completed offence.

The emotional dependence of the victims on the perpetrators is a common tactic. Who would send tens of thousands of euros to an online flirt they have never met? What strategy do the attackers use? When people start chatting on the internet, it’s just for fun. Contacts are made on various platforms, not only on dating websites.

The perpetrators also use social and professional networks to communicate with potential victims. It is not uncommon for them to present themselves as handsome and wealthy, say fraud investigators. They pose as an engineer on an oil rig, a doctor, a pilot or a US soldier on a mission overseas, among other things.

The perpetrators sometimes portray themselves as victims in their crimes. They appear sympathetic and generate pity for their situation. A terrible car accident, a serious robbery or a fatally ill family member are some of the common tall tales. In this way, the perpetrator or perpetrators succeed in gaining the victim’s trust.

After weeks or months, the first demands for money are made, according to experts in online fraud and cybercrime. In the meantime, the offender expresses his affection for his victim. He makes plans for a visit to Germany and announces it. But there is always a catch. After a mishap, he turns to his victim for help.

There are no limits to the criminals’ imagination when it comes to the Romance Scam. It starts with a demand for a few hundred dollars to cover the cost of food or a hotel room after claiming to have been robbed. A plane ticket, customs fees and other expenses such as a certificate or expensive identification documents would have to be paid.

Targeted impersonations of real identities

The perpetrators often use stolen profile photos in video chats so that the victim does not even realise that his counterpart is not real. Likewise, they forge papers – e.g. from the United Nations, the US army or the British government – to back up their fictitious strokes of fate.

Even with sceptical chat partners, the criminals remain creative and routine. They easily forge, steal or purloin questions for evidence of their identity from the internet. They make use of elaborate fake papers. Even photos of already fallen soldiers that appear in Google searches are shamelessly used as profile pictures in dating apps and social media.

Many of the perpetrators are in West Africa

Investigators also refer to it as the “Nigeria Connection”. According to leading investigators, however, there are also perpetrators based here in Germany. They are well-coordinated gangs that cooperate together.

Finding the people behind it in West Africa is difficult, though not impossible. Recovering the money is also a possibility in many cases. Victims should contact the police as soon as possible and file a report.

Romance Scam & Money Laundering – How to Protect Yourself

Women between the ages of 40 and 60 are most likely to become victims of online romance scams. But men and young people under 30 are also vulnerable to this type of scam, according to authorities. Official recommendations are:

  • if in doubt, do a reverse image search on the Internet to verify the identity of the person you are talking to.
  • You can also post the picture on a scam website like Helga Grotheer’s Romancescambaiter to warn other people.
  • Never transfer money to someone you have never met in person or have only known for a short time.
  • Keep up to date with current scams.
  • Remain sceptical – especially in the case of extremely emotional, dramatic stories, it is usually a lie.
  • If your internet acquaintance demands money from you, break off contact and confide in someone close to you.
  • If you are a victim of romance scams (and money laundering), contact a lawyer immediately.