RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – She fooled around and fell in love -- on Facebook. But the presents she's received attracted the presence of FBI agents.
"Cindy" didn't fall in love. She fell for what the feds call a mid-shipper scam.
The woman who asked not to be identified started an online relationship with a "Randy Coleman," aka "Lovely Alhassan." Weeks of sweet 'I love you' messages soon gave way to shipments of stuffed animals and balloons.
"I was lonely," she said. "He was supposed to have been half-Italian, and I'm half-Italian."
She said "Coleman" claimed to be a foreigner with orphanages in Italy and in Africa. That's when packages started showing up: cell phones, clothes, shoes, cologne. She said he explained it was merchandise he bought in the United States to eventually sell and raise money for the orphanages.
"He wanted me to accept the packages and then send them to his agent for him over in Africa for one of his orphanages," said "Cindy."
Then came the invoices.
"When I got invoices in with other people's names for their shipping and stuff, I knew then...stolen merchandise on stolen credit cards," she said.
Agent Amy Hess, special agent-in-charge of the Memphis FBI office, said scam artists are trolling Facebook, MySpace and other social networks for lonely hearts. She said they butter the women up, then essentially "launder" stolen merchandise through them to muddy the paper trail.
"(The scam) thereby further buffers or protects the subject, who is actually purchasing the merchandise using fraudulent credit cards, usually," Hess said.
Insp. Susan Link, postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's Memphis branch, investigates mid-shipper scams. She said the mid-shipper caught in the middle can be charged with a crime, too, if they knowingly ship, keep or sell the stolen merchandise.
"They can be arrested. They have been arrested," said Link, who recently arrested a Mid-South woman who laundered $2 million in checks and shipped them to Nigeria.
"They need to understand that they can be held responsible for their actions," she said.
"Cindy" sorted things out and wisely decided not to ship the merchandise. A U.S. Department of Justice receipt indicates FBI agents confiscated the packages. Agent Joel Siskovic confirmed the agency is investigating this mid-shipper case.
Siskovic also said the mid-shipper scam comes in other forms other than the "lonesome lover." He said mid-shipping scammers pose as employers, too -- trolling employment sites for desperate job-seekers. He said they also pretend to be bankers, looking for "investors" in their fake "shipping companies."
Please report any Internet-related crimes to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
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