A News 4 Investigation in March featured three Western New York women who claimed they were the victims of an online romance scam.
Romance scams involve people pretending to seek companionship or romance online. Victims think they’re involved with an honest and trustworthy companion, often for several months or longer, without ever meeting in person.
“They’re meeting these people. They don’t realize that the person on the other end may or may not be the person they think they are,” said Janette, an IC3 Internet crime specialist.
Tracking Internet crimes is one thing. Getting the money back is another.
“Your chances of getting your money back are probably slimmer than we would hope, “ Gregory added.
And while there are multiple arrests and convictions every year for Internet-related crimes, recovering stolen money can be a heavy lift.
“Once the money leaves the U.S. shores either electronically or in the real world it’s very, very difficult for us to get it back,” said William Hochul, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York.
According to Hochul, law enforcement has had success prosecuting cases where the predators are located in the U.S.
“They have some sort of assets or bank accounts of their own. In that instance we can put seizure warrants on the property of the defendants, and then after conviction try to get it back to the victims.”
The FBI actively highlights the capabilities of IC3 to local law enforcement and assists them in gaining IC3 access for their own intelligence and investigative purposes.
Brian Boetig, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office, said law enforcement agencies in the Western New York area are trying to get ahead of the game.
He said the FBI assists local law enforcement agencies in developing their own in-house investigative capabilities, and investigates cases when the crimes reach federal thresholds.
“It’s a very difficult crime especially for a local police department to have to work when the subjects usually don’t live in the same city, and often times they live overseas,” said Boetig. “You’re talking about a victim that lives in one place. A suspect who lives in another place…might even be out of the country who banks in a third location.”
That complexity makes IC3s job of aggregating victim information critical in terms of piecing together the best possible case.
And it doesn’t matter how big or small the financial loss.
“If they file that complaint maybe there were another hundred people that shared the same dollar loss, and we can build that case and get that out to law enforcement,” Gregory said.