There’s a new internet scam sweeping the country that preys on those looking for love.
It appears con artists are now using internet dating sites to find unwitting accomplices to help them use stolen identities to steal thousands of dollars in merchandise.
In the last year Fulton, Illinois Police Officer Donnie Pridemore has spent hundreds of hours chasing down internet con-artists.
They’re using new scams that originate in the same old places.
"The two I've had have been from Nigeria and Ghana. Although they always claim to be from somewhere else," says Pridemore.
He adds that the con artists reach out to Americans via internet dating sites.
They strike up a relationship sending flowers, and chocolate, telling their victims they’re working overseas, and soon they’ll meet in person.
In the mean time they ask the American to help them help them out by having some merchandise shipped to their home and then forwarded on to them because most companies won’t ship internationally.
"What you'll notice is on each of these the ship to address is the same, and the ordered by, every name is different," says Pridemore.
And that’s when the red flags start popping up.
Pridemore tells us everything is bought and paid for with stolen credit cards, and will most likely end up being sold on the black market.
"The first case I was alerted to, a stolen credit card was used to pay for the flowers and that stolen credit card belonged to a police officer in Tennessee," he says.
When merchandisers hear that this has come to an end many of them are relieved and at least one is putting their product to good use.
Pridemore says one case involved more than $3,000 worth of clothes from Gymboree.
When the company realized what had happened they told the police to give the stolen items to a local children’s organizations.
"We've got over $3,000 worth of merchandise that'll be donated to some local charities, so there is some good coming out of this," says Pridemore.
Because the criminals are overseas there’s very little police can do to stop them other than to remind everyone to be extremely cautious with their internet interactions.
"You really don't know who you're talking to or who you're meeting they can be anybody they wish to be," says Pridemore.
The number of cases like this is on the rise, in the last year con-artists have preyed on at least three people locally.
The Fulton Police Department says those unwilling accomplices won’t face any charges – unless they were aware of what was going one.