In a strategy that one prosecutor called "completely unprecedented," Federal law enforcement agencies have collaborated with an elderly Kirkwood woman currently awaiting sentencing in Federal Court to try to prevent others from becoming "money mules" for online scammers.
In a new video
produced by the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, the Secret Service and Postal Inspection Service, 81-year-old Glenda Seim shares her story of falling victim to an online romance scam. After being contacted online by a man she calls "my love," she was persuaded to send him money. Her "love" then sent her electronics to pawn, instructing her to mail the proceeds back to him. Despite being warned for years by bank officials, local police and Federal law enforcement that what she was doing was illegal, Seim continued to be persuaded by her "love" and continued to take part in the illegal behavior.
"I didn't listen to anyone else but my love," Seim says. "The love I have never seen or spoken to." Seim closes the video by saying that after pleading guilty to two felonies last month, she'll "be listening to the judge now" at her sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry said at a press conference Friday she was unaware of any other instances of an individual being prosecuted by federal law enforcement collaborating with law enforcement on a PR campaign.
"This is basically a desperation play. We have been facing on a routine basis people who are continuing their criminal activity [after being warned by law enforcement]," Berry said. "They ignore when these law enforcement officers go to their door with their badges. They ignore everything that has been said to please the person that they have never seen."
The FBI uses to term "money mule" to describe "someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else....Money mules add layers of distance between crime victims and criminals, which makes it harder for law enforcement to accurately trace money trails."
The PR campaign comes on the heals of the prosecution of three St. Louisans and one Ohio woman involved in a multi-state romance scam centered on a Berkeley P.O. Box.
Officials said at the press conference that during a typical month in the Eastern District of Missouri, the FBI receives about 300 complaints related to online scams. These 300 monthly complaints are on average associated with a total of $2.4 million in losses.