Online Relationships: Are You Dating a Scammer?
Let’s face it, the days of dropping cheesy pick-up lines at social gatherings are coming to an end. We would be hearing less cheesy lines like “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” or “Was your dad a thief? Because he stole the stars and put them in your eyes”.
The traditional approach to getting an opposite sex to talk to you or take an interest in you by actually talking to them face to face is slowly fading. Our cavemen instincts of hunting is slowly being overtaken by convenience – The equivalent of a caveman ordering pizza delivery instead of hunting.
Digital Dating – Broken Barriers
Before the advent of internet dating, we used to head to various places to socialize and meet people - bars, pubs, clubs, parties, weddings, places of worship and even the library! It took physical effort and mental courage to walk up to someone and introduce oneself.
Back then, it’s victory when phone numbers were exchanged, which then led on to conversations to get to know each other to actually going on a date to get to know the person further. Unfortunately, all these would have to take place in the location or country you reside in – flying in and out of the country can be costly!
Now, with online dating websites and apps, it has become so easy to find a partner or in this case, a match – even from a different country if you wish. You can judge if you like the person by looking at their picture and also read their profile details to see if they’re “your type”.
Computers and servers in these virtual dating agencies filter the millions of people in their databases to find you your closest match. You’re able to scroll through profiles of people near you on your smartphone and send them a flirty text copied from a google search you just did, bypassing the effort and anxiety of thinking of what you would like to say to your match.
Not everybody on the Internet is whom they seem to be
You might be a guy and scrolling through profiles on a dating site and then you spot a nice girl who you might like to date. You send her a message — and she answers in a kind and lovely manner. She wants to know you better! She wants to talk to you! But behind the guise of that sweet-sounding woman may actually be a man --- a beardy cybercriminal who only wanted to get your phone number to scam you.
Last year, Russian police have arrested two men from Smolensk who pretended to be young, attractive girls stealing the hearts of men in Moscow and then threatening and tricking them into sending rather big sums of money. The criminals were found to have actually earned about one million Russian rubles (or USD16,500) with this scheme.
Now, some of you are thinking that men are more gullible in this area, but there are many cases where women have been scammed of money by their internet lovers. However, the real figures on romantic frauds are never known. Many of the victims, especially married people, prefer to keep silent.
Also, there are instances where website employees behaved like scammers as there were only a few women registered on the site. So they create accounts of pretty girls themselves using pictures copied from anywhere on the internet. Then, there are bots created to lure newcomers into chat and get them to pay money to continue the conversation.
So just believe us: anyone can be reeled in. This is how Monica Whitty, a cyber-psychologist from the University of Leicester explains the situation to the DailyMail:
“You don’t have to be ‘vulnerable’. You can be a highly intelligent person with a good job. The strategies these fraudsters use are highly sophisticated.”
Whitty has acquired much experience working with victims of romance frauds. She admits that victims meet double pressure: they blame themselves and their friends and relatives do the same. “Most crime victims are given sympathy and support, but in the case of online fraud, friends and family are furious. Their response is, “How could you be so gullible?”
Valentine’s Day cometh
As we approach the official day of love, most of us will receive the traditional anonymous Valentines – albeit in digital form. Usually it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the author but some come as a surprise and the admirer is unknown. Your curiosity is quite understandable in this case, but do not let it reduce your vigilance – instead of romance, such “letters” typically lead to malware or real money loss.
While installing a reliable internet security suite such as Kaspersky Internet Security 2017 will secure from malware and malicious links, it will not protect you from a broken heart.
So to keep you safe from being broken hearted and scammed this Valentine’s Day, we have put together list of common scams and some tips to ensure your safety and your digital life is not compromised:
Scam: Mutual connection
This is where a scammer contacts you via social channels and claims having common interest or a mutual connection with you maybe from an introduction at a wedding or large gathering. If you’re a serial poster of pictures and haven’t updated your privacy settings, it’s easy guesswork for the cybercriminals.
Tip: If you receive such a claim, and no matter how desperate you are, dismiss the conversation and never add that person as a friend. Also, update your privacy settings to share with only those you know.
Scam: Intimate Activity
A very common scam especially for those in a long distance internet dating relationship. After an intense courtship period, the scammer asks the victim to connect with them via webcam and “chat.” The fraudster’s webcam is mysteriously broken, but they heap praise on their victim and, with a combination of flattery and persistence, convince their “partner” to partially disrobe or perform other intimate acts. The scammer then reveals their true identity. They claim to have made a video recording and threaten to share the video with mutual social media friends or post the recording online, unless the victim sends money. Once the victim complies, the cycle begins—demands increase until the victim finally refuses.
Tip: If it involves a webcam and you are asked to perform indecent acts, never ever give into to the demands, no matter what they are. If the relationship is real, then you would wait to meet each other in person.
Scam: Fake Dating Sites
The recent Ashely Madison leak offers a glimpse into the world of fake dating sites. Services claim to offer legitimate meetups, but are either severely underpopulated or awash with scammers and bots.
Tip: Look out for sign-up questionnaires that are light on personal details, but heavy on questions about finances. Also watch for an influx of attention just after you’ve created your profile. If all your profile contains is a few lines of text, no photo and no set preferences, but you start getting message after message from potential suitors, chances are you’ve stumbled across a fake dating site.
Other things to pay attention to even on legitimate dating sites – let’s face it, scammers are everywhere - include the following:
Suspicious Spelling and Grammar
If they supposedly come from an English-speaking nation, be on the lookout for awful spelling and grammar. While not everyone looking for love online has the soul and finesse of William Shakespeare, truly terrible grammatical errors and run-on sentences are red flags. The same goes for emails. Native English speakers have a natural cadence when they speak and write that isn’t easily mimicked. Be suspicious if something seems “off” about the tone or pacing.
If messages and profile descriptions read too well, be worried. Often, scammers won’t bother writing their own material, but instead lift it from other websites or dating profiles. Here, it’s a good idea to run suspicious text through an Internet search to see if any matches come up. If they do, don’t message or respond to this scam artist.
Legitimate users often post links to their favourite bands, travel destinations or hobbies. Scammers typically fill their profiles with links to low-quality “spam” sites that are trying to sell a product or teach you to “get rich quick.” You may also find links to X-rated websites—a warning sign that the profile isn’t entirely legitimate.
While strong feelings often accompany the first few weeks of any new romance, scammers will try to accelerate this process even further by offering not only a huge volume of compliments and kind words, but also intimate details of their own life that they have “never shared with anyone else.” What can be even more troubling is if after just a few chat sessions or emails, they’re asking for a small amount of money to cover strange expenses—perhaps they’re stranded in a foreign country, have a family member in medical distress or have just been robbed, and need you to wire transfer money ASAP. If requests for money are ever on the table, walk away.
“As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, everyone, especially single folks will be scurrying to find themselves a date with a potential Mr. or Ms. Right. One of the many ways would be through the use of internet dating sites or apps. We would like to arm everyone with knowledge about common romance scams and how to avoid these fraudsters so you can skip the fake romance and seek out your true love instead,” said Sylvia Ng, General Manager at Kaspersky Lab Southeast Asia.