Almost everything in our lives is digital, and dating is no exception. Today, dating apps are a new way of meeting people and finding love. But, online dating comes with its dangers, and it’s essential to know what signs to look out for, to avoid cybercrime of any kind.
Few things are sacred to cybercriminals – and true love certainly isn’t one of them. Fake wedding invitations have been a standard spam attack for years, but cybercriminals have begun to play longer, more complex games to lure in victims. Sadly, these can include ‘love’ affairs on dating sites that are faked purely to steal. Criminals use fake profiles and attempt either to dupe a lover into sending money or installing malware on their computer.
“Dating scams are a fast-growing area of fraud and cybercrime, rising by a third year-on-year in some countries, and ranging from fraud to identity theft and even malware attacks,” says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET South Africa.
There are a huge number of fake profiles on dating sites. Some are made by unfortunate people in a misguided attempt to find love, while others may be used to lure customers to the site. Of course, you want to avoid all of these, especially those that are simply bait for cybercrime.
What To Watch Out For
Don’t be a victim of cybercrime – check out these tips:
If you’re suspicious, Google the message text he/she sends to you
Unlike spam, dating scams require a fair amount of work from criminals, so they tend to cut corners. Often, the ‘romantic’ message you receive has been sent to dozens of other people. Put quotes around it and Google it: if it brings up results from former victims, it’s a major red flag. Speak to the site administrator or a friend.
Don’t be ashamed to ‘play detective’
Millions of people use dating sites, but they carry certain risks that regular dating does not. You don’t really know whether the person you’re speaking to is real, or where they’re from. You also don’t have the reassurance of this person being ‘a friend of a friend’. So, play detective. If they won’t tell you where they work, worry. Likewise, if they keep asking questions about you, but never answer any about themselves, worry. Search for them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or just via Google – it’s almost impossible not to leave traces online these days. If someone can’t be traced, they probably don’t exist.
If their photos look too good, be afraid
Oddly, one of the giveaways that the messenger may not be who they say they are is that they look too good – as in, the photographs are professional. Few normal people would make this much effort – but for a cybercriminal, the easiest way to create a fake profile is to use glamorous pictures from the web, shot by professional photographers. Of course, it’s very easy to steal other people’s photos online today as well. So make sure you do all the other checks, too.
Don’t hand over information bit by bit
Dating sites are a huge growth area for cybercrime. Scams vary from simple cons, where people are asked for money for visas, to classic phishing. The problem is that handing over information is a normal part of romance, making it ideal for identity thieves. Until you have verified that the person is genuine, never give out your address, and limit other details as far as possible, such as workplaces and contact details.
Don’t share ‘racy’ photos with people you haven’t met
One variation of today’s dating scams is a simple one – blackmail. Do not hand over pictures you would be embarrassed to publish online, otherwise, you’re at risk from blackmailers. Even racy messages can be a tool for criminals, particularly if you’re attached. Keep things clean until you know your ‘romance’ is real. Allowing someone to see you via webcam, or to, for instance, undress on webcam, is particularly risky.
If your messenger sends you a photo which you need to click on, be cautious
A Nigerian ‘scam factory’ exposed by Brian Krebs used various methods to defraud wannabe lovers. One was to promise an image, but then send a file containing banking malware. Keep your antivirus software running and be wary of profiles without images in the first place.
Don’t be persuaded to switch to another social network, email or Instant Messenger
Millions of people use dating sites, and the ‘big’ sites are facing epidemic levels of fake profiles, phishing, and other scams. As a result, cybercriminals will often persuade victims to switch to another site, either social or simply email. This way, they can continue the fraud in private.
If you think it’s happening too fast, it’s time to worry
Dating scams are one of the few areas of cybercrime where gangs play a ‘long game’, sometimes stringing victims along for weeks or months. But many crooks are impatient to be paid, so any online ‘lover’ who declares undying love in the space of a few emails should be regarded with extreme suspicion.
Do not send money, ever
The ‘red flag’ moment comes when your ‘lover’ asks for money. Do not send it, whether it’s for flights, or for life-saving surgery. Even if the story is so tragic you feel that you must help. If the subject of money comes up early in the relationship, be wary. If someone outright asks for a bank transfer, you may well be dealing with a criminal. Speak to a site administrator, if possible.
Is It Worth The Risk?
With all these warnings and all those scammers out there, you might be wondering if looking for love online is just a bad idea. If you know the warning signs and keep your wits about you, you can date online successfully as many have done before. Once you’re confident that the person is who they say they are, set up a phone call or face-to-face meeting. Talking on the phone and seeing someone in person is a lot harder to fake than an email, online chat, or digital photo. Bear in mind that a face-to-face meeting has its own set of risks, but these can be reduced by agreeing on a public place, in daylight.
DISCLAIMER: The testimonials presented on this website are applicable to the individuals depicted only and may not be representative of the experience of others. The information provided within this site is strictly for the purposes of information only and is not a replacement or substitute for professional advice.