February 14, 2015

Not everyone is looking for love: Online romance scams to avoid this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day

Whether you’re in a relationship, happily single, feeling flirty or looking for love, it’s hard to miss Valentine’s Day, with sweet cards, red roses and chocolates wherever you look. But as with every other celebration through the year, cybercriminals are ready to take advantage. Follow our tips to avoid being duped while looking for love online.

Love at first site? Fake ads and spam

Whatever your relationship status this Valentine’s Day, no one is safe from seasonal scams. Let’s be honest, who isn't curious about a supposed Valentine’s email or e-card?

Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day regularly delivers an increased threat of malware using spam email attacks or fake advertisements and they are often very successful.

Be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers for e-cards, jewelry or flowers. These may land in your inbox, reach you through social media or appear on web pages.

By clicking on links in the ads you may inadvertently download malware or be taken to a fake site where the aim is to steal your credit card information or other personal data, rather than sell you the promised romantic gifts.

E-cards are very common around Valentine’s Day and have an especially high success rate as recipients are less suspicious than usual of an anonymous sender.

Be careful of letting excitement or curiosity make you forget your usual email good practice – do not open emails from unknown sources and do not click on any links within emails.

If an email message has an attachment claiming to be a Valentine’s message or e-card, or labelled along the lines of ‘Be my Valentine’, do not open it.

Valentine’s malware that infects your computer can attempt to steal your personal and financial information or force your machine to become part of a zombie botnet.

Romance Scams
Scamming an unsuspecting victim for money, known as ‘advance fee fraud’, is nothing new. It happens with traditional mail, it happens with fax, it happens with email and now it is rife on dating websites.

A form of social engineering, it begins with contact from another supposed Internet dating site user. The relationship probably progresses quickly, the person sends a very attractive photo of themselves (possibly stolen from a modelling website) and asks you to send one back.

Exchanges become more intimate and the person, who is not who they say they are, asks you to move the conversation away from the dating site to text, email or instant message. You arrange to meet.

But your new found love can’t afford the travel costs, or their plane tickets are stolen (they are more than likely abroad). Or some other tragedy befalls them – their mother is sick, their daughter is in a terrible car accident – and they need help with costs. You agree to send money.

There are inevitably more and more reasons to send additional funds and yet there’s always a reason why your money isn't returned and the person cannot meet with you, until finally you realize the ugly truth. This person was never looking for love and you have been scammed.

From the outside it may be hard to understand how someone can fall victim to this type of fraud, but cybercriminals’ tactics are becoming more elaborate and subtle manipulation over a period of time can be very effective.

To protect yourself, never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust. Ask yourself if you would give this sort of information to someone you’d just met in real life? Always pay attention to your instincts; if something doesn't feel right, walk away.

Clues that something is amiss include:

  • The pictures they send of themselves look amazing.
  • They are very quickly intimate and ‘over loving’ in their messages.
  • They don’t reveal much about themselves.
  • They want to know everything about you.
  • They suggest taking the conversation away from the dating website.
  • They ask for nude photos or videos (these could be used against you for money later).
  • They ask for money.

Keep Yourself Safe
Finally, if you are thinking of joining an online dating site and creating a personal profile, be mindful of what you include.

As you now know, cybercriminals are scouring these sites looking for potential victims and although you may be savvy enough not to fall for one of their scams, you don’t want to give away any financial or identity information that they could make use of for fraudulent activity.

It’s also worth bearing in mind what information you have publicly available on other sites, such as Facebook.

It may be possible for someone to piece together information about you and your whereabouts by combining information from different websites. Check your privacy settings for different social networks and make sure you’re not giving away more than you’d like.

Remember not everyone is trustworthy and you cannot control who views your profile if you make everything public.

It’s important to remember that our online lives can also make us vulnerable in the real world.

As popular as Internet dating sites have become, a growing trend is the mobile or location-based dating app. Tinder, for example, uses your Facebook information (with your permission) to locate people in your immediate area, tell them a little about you, whether you have any mutual friends and show them a picture.

In fact, Tinder’s geo-location feature has seen some users determine the whereabouts of another user within just 100 feet. It may be worth thinking about whether you really want to broadcast your exact GPS location to anyone interested in knowing it. After all, not everyone is looking for love.

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