LOS ANGELES, CA -- You know the old adage "Love is blind." Well, that's exactly what so-called sweetheart schemers are counting on. First they leave their sweetheart in the lurch and then rip off an online seller for thousands of dollars.
U.S. Postal Inspector Ricky Vida, "She fell in love on the internet; it's what we call a sweetheart scam. She believed she was going to marry a U.S. soldier stationed over in Nigeria."
The victim was told her sweetheart was in the middle of divorcing his current wife. He asked if she would pawn some jewelry she would receive in the mail and then wire the money to him in Africa.
Vida said, "She showed us the text messages she was receiving from her love interest overseas-- her sweetheart."
Instead of love this victim found herself caught in a scheme.
She became what postal inspectors called a 'money mule' or a middleman.
The jewelry sent to her was essentially stolen in an online auction scheme. Here's how it works: someone trying to sell something online receives an email from an interested buyer. The email would be a spoof email, appearing like it is from Paypal. It would include a request for a tracking number. It would say once they get the tracking number, the paypal money will come through.
So the seller goes to the post office and sends the merchandise to get the tracking number. That's when they realize they've been duped. Vida said, "the seller wouldn't receive payment or anything and would be out the jewelry or other things they were selling online."
Those "goods" are sent to a middle man, like the victim in the sweetheart scheme, who has no idea the merchandise is part of a rip off scheme.
Here's a warning to online sellers: postal inspectors say the best thing you can do is closely read the email. Red flags include misspellings or incorrect language. If you have any doubts postal inspectors say do not reply to the email.
Federal officials say the average financial loss from these romance schemes is between $15,000 and $20,000. That's nearly double what it was a decade ago.
As for how to avoid being the sweetheart caught in the middle, authorities say never trust someone you've met online until you meet them face to face and confirm they are who they say they are.
Postal Inspectors/WFMY News 2