LAUNDERING LOVE: A MULTI-CASE ANALYSIS OF THE EVOLUTION OF ROMANCE SCAM VICTIMS INTO CO-OFFENDING MONEY MULES

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Authors
Huhn, Christopher K.
Subjects
romance scam
sweetheart scam
romance fraud
confidence fraud
money laundering
money mule
transnational criminal organizations
grooming
cyber-enabled fraud
cybercrime
catfishing
co-offending
repetition-induced truth
referential theory
grounded theory
Advisors
Bellavita, Christopher
Aten, Kathryn J.
Date of Issue
2023-03
Date
Publisher
Monterey, CA; Naval Postgraduate School
Language
Abstract
This thesis addresses the problems of rapidly rising cyber-enabled fraud and concomitant money laundering by focusing on romance scam victims who evolve into willing partners in money laundering schemes, known as “witting money mules.” This thesis explores how and why individuals become money mules after victimization in online romance scams. The thesis employs a grounded theory approach and investigates data from over 134,000 historical text messages between three offenders and 22 victims, as well as three participant interviews with romance scam victims. The data resulted in a grounded theory that a romantically lonely victim who persistently engages online with an offender that strategically repeats scheme-relevant premises in the guise of a romantic partner can result in the victim acceding to the offender’s exploitative requests and the eventual decision to co-offend. This theory also explains how a person can simultaneously be a victim and offender and why they would intentionally choose to help the romance scammer launder money. The literature and data similarly support a suggested definition for “grooming” in the context of romance scams. As a whole, this thesis provides insight into romance scams and money mules as a strategic pivot point that, if disrupted, can simultaneously impact a criminal organization’s ability to profit from romance scams and launder the proceeds of cyber-enabled fraud.
Type
Thesis
Description
Department
National Security Affairs (CHDS)
Organization
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Approved for public release. Distribution is unlimited.
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