Suspected $3m Romance Scammer Extradited to Japan

  • Interpol has launched a new awareness campaign urging individuals not to become money mules, after arresting 15 suspects in connection with a major romance scam conspiracy.

    The international policing organization’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC) said the two-week global campaign would highlight the critical role mules play in modern crime.

    It will use the hashtag #YourAccountYourCrime on social media to remind people that they are ultimately responsible for keeping their own bank accounts safe, and that moving money on behalf of others could land them in trouble.

    The campaign will cover how the industry works, the risks associated and how to avoid becoming a money mule, Interpol said.

    Police arrested over a dozen suspected money mules recently after identifying a Japanese man they believe is responsible for a major romance fraud campaign.

    Hikaru Morikawa, 58, arrived at Kansai airport a in August after being arrested in Ghana, according to reports. He’s suspected of masterminding a group of romance scammers who posed as women on dating sites to trick victims into handing over money.

    The group is thought to have made around 400 million yen ($3m) from their scams, according to Interpol.

    “Criminals will go to great lengths to recruit money mules, because they play an essential role in distancing themselves from authorities and escaping detection. Money mule schemes can be disguised as employment, romantic relationships or investments, or simply as helping out a friend,” said Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol executive director of police services.

    “At the end of the day, however, moving money for someone else, especially across borders, is risky business. Money mules, whether complicit or not, help perpetuate the criminal cycle and could face prosecution.”

    The awareness campaign is being launched as part of Project TORAID, an Interpol initiative targeting financial crime funded by the Japanese government.

    Romance scams made fraudsters over $956m in 2021, making it the third-highest earner for criminals, according to reports filed with the FBI.