Love actually isn’t all around

Editor’s note: Money muling romance scam infographics are available via Hightail.

The AFP is warning Australians to look out for signs that their so-called partners only love them for their bank account, after a national anti-money laundering crackdown identified victims of romance scams.

Fifteen Australians, who thought they had found love, were identified as being money mules under a national anti-money laundering campaign.

A money mule is someone who transfers illicit money on behalf of someone else, usually members of criminal syndicates.

The anti-money laundering campaign was run in conjunction with Europol’s eighth annual global anti-money mule operation, known as European Money Mule Action 8 (EMMA8), which led to 2469 arrests around the world, including 21 in Australia.

Those charged in Australia are accused of dealing in proceeds of crime.

While police intervened in these instances involving innocent victims, people who are knowingly complicit in illegal schemes face serious penalties, including jail terms of up to 25 years.

AFP Commander Cybercrime Operations Chris Goldsmid said some criminals were preying on the lonely or using the online environment to trick Australians to unwittingly commit money laundering offences.

“Romance scams are a common method for criminals to enlist money mules because they put pressure on them emotionally,” Commander Goldsmid said.

Some romance scams start in the physical world, however, most begin online on social media platforms, dating apps and even email or text.

Unlike typical romance scams, which involve victims losing money, people who agree to transfer money on behalf of others can receive a profit themselves.

“Criminals will invest a significant amount of time – sometimes years – building what seems to be a legitimate relationship with their victim,” he said.

“They will express their love for the victim and in some cases, promise marriage but will often have a complicated story about why they cannot meet in person.

“Once they’ve gained their victim’s trust, the criminal will ask them to set up a new bank account, or will transfer money into their existing account with a request to forward the funds offshore to people claimed to be their friends, family or businesses.

“The criminal will generally give the victim extra money as a gift and to help strengthen their trust.

“People should question why someone needs to use their bank account to transfer money offshore, rather than doing it themselves.

“Criminals want to use someone else’s legitimate Australian bank accounts to obfuscate the flow of money and hide their illegal tracks.

“Money mules need to understand that the funds they’re moving are proceeds from serious criminal activities, such as drug sales, the black market firearms trade or cyber scams, and this money will be going to violent, transnational crime syndicates.

“Transferring money on behalf of someone else may seem relatively harmless, but if they were not legitimately earned funds, it makes you complicit in the illegal activities and is a criminal offence.

“Criminals do not discriminate when choosing their victims. Anyone can be a target and they will use a range of extravagant excuses to pull on their victim’s heart strings.

“If something doesn’t feel right, talk to a trusted friend or family member before sending any funds. Never provide your banking details or identity documents to someone you’ve met online. If in doubt – don’t.”

People who believe they have been lured into being a money mule should report it to Report Cyber and notify their banks immediately.

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