KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee woman said she was tricked into laundering money through Bitcoin after falling in love with a man in a very unique twist on the typical romance scam.
Scammers are increasingly seeking to exploit the latest technology, cryptocurrency, for their financial benefit. Bitcoin transactions actually have the ability to make money laundering easier for criminals because cryptocurrencies are conducted, transferred, and stored online. That allows cybercriminals to move their funds instantly across borders.
Rita, who chose not to share her last name, had been asked to transfer nearly $4,000. The money was mailed to her in cash and she followed the directions given to her explicitly. She believed the man sending the money was honest because he was her new boyfriend who gave her the name Stefan Hans.
The two meet through Facebook and the widow said she fell head over heels for him She said her boyfriend has been busy the last five months sending her cash in priority mail envelopes. She showed WATE’s Don Dare a note left inside one of the envelopes that read “For Stefan Hans. Commercial Invoice. Diplomat Mark Smith Heinrich.”
The scammer has been sending money to her for months. She’s been given directions to take the cash to a Bitcoin Depot machine.
“I put the money in the bit machine and I put that code up there that has his, his, I guess it is his address. It sends it to him, I get a receipt then I sent the receipt to Stefan Hans,” said Rita
“How much money has he been sending to you?” asked Dare.
“I have sent $6,500, six times,” replied Rita.
Rita said because she’s fallen in love with him, she’s followed his directions.
“It was because he was supposed to be my boyfriend, he is supposed to be coming to me. We’re supposed to be getting married. I trusted him and believed him,” said Rita. “He’s on an oil rig, he’s on a contract and he can’t leave until his contract is finished.”
That’s the tale he tells her, a typical romance scam red flag. But what’s different about this scheme is the scammer is not asking her for money, instead he is sending it and having her launder it.
“It is scary. I was scared to death today, I was so scared afraid that I was doing something wrong,” said Rita. “My nephew told me this morning, Sister, you are laundering money.”
“People often are unwitting participants in these fraud schemes,” Postal Inspector Wendy Boles said. “That’s what the fraudsters are looking for, someone to conduct these illegal financial transactions for them.”
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Boles says it’s unlikely Rita would be charged with any infraction. For the Postal Inspector Office, the scheme involving Bitcoin is new to East Tennessee.
“We want the public to know, they can conduct their own financial transaction. No one should need you to do that for them,” said Boles.
Rita has stopped communicating with Stefan Hans, she has a new cell phone number and she’s contacted authorities.