it can be a tough time to be single, but be careful who you associate with. That beautiful blonde woman or super hot man texting you may be after more than your love and affection.
Experts warn that this is the peak season for online romance scams, which led to a staggering $1.3 billion in losses last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The pandemic and our increasingly digital lives mean that anyone feeling particularly lonely this season could be a potential target.
It often starts with what seems like an innocent message via social media. They will pose as a woman in a war-torn country or a man working on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. It is never available to anyone.
“There’s always an excuse why they can’t meet in person,” said Emma Fletcher, a senior data researcher for the Federal Trade Commission who worked on the commission’s 2022 numbers. “It’s built into the identity they’ve adopted.”
Ultimately, the scammer will ask for money, often playing with their brand’s heart to get them to send the money. They may say they need it to escape a dangerous situation or simply to buy a plane ticket to visit, said Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, a consumer-facing cybersecurity company.
Once they receive the money, the scammer and the victim’s dollars will simply disappear.
This is a legitimate threat, given that online dating and hooking up via apps are the norm rather than the exception.
On top of that, Ramzan said the pandemic has further pushed everyday life online, keeping many people at home and out of bars and restaurants where they might have previously met for a first date. Far-flung romances are now much more likely to flourish.
Aura, Ramzan’s company, surveyed 1,000 Americans in January about their dating app experience. Of those people, 30 percent reported having observed suspected fraudulent behavior, while 17 percent admitted to experiencing fraud themselves.
Of the group that was defrauded, 13 percent said they lost money, with their losses averaging more than $2,000.
“Either people haven’t learned or the scammers are just getting better,” Ramzan said.
Indeed, they have become more aggressive and sophisticated.
Both Ramzan and Fletcher pointed to a large increase in fraud involving, which accounted for 34 percent of the losses reported to the FTC last year. By design, crypto can be largely anonymous and extremely difficult to trace, which usually means that if it’s stolen, it’s gone forever.
Although some scammers ask their victims to send them cryptocurrency for the same bogus reasons as they do cash, a growing number of cybercriminals are pushing fake crypto investment schemes, Fletcher said.
Scammers pose as sophisticated investors who want to help their target by promising them big returns if they invest their crypto with them. People will let their guard down because they think they’ll be the ones to get something out of it, she said.
Meanwhile, whether it’s for love or money, it’s human nature for people to see what they want to see.
“People just think it’s not going to happen to them,” Fletcher said. “But it’s important to remember that the people it happened to also thought that.”
Tips for Avoiding Valentine’s Day Scams
Be skeptical of anyone who contacts you via unsolicited email, text message, or social media message. We have no way of knowing who they really are. If someone claims to be overseas or otherwise says they can’t meet in person, consider that a big red flag.
Stick to your dating app. Dating apps don’t like cheaters. This is bad for their reputation, Ramzan said. Be careful if someone wants to move your communications to an external messaging app like WhatsApp or Signal.
Never give money to people you’ve only met online. If someone you’ve never met in person asks for money to travel to the US and see you, pay for medical care, or help deal with a sudden tragedy, you should consider it a scam. The same goes for the keys to your cryptocurrency wallets.
Protect your personal data. Never send personal information such as your social security number. If someone asks for nude or otherwise explicit photos, say no. The FTC says cases of “sexual extortion,” in which cybercriminals threaten to send such photos to people’s contacts if they don’t pay, are on the rise.
Do your homework. People who use dating apps and sites are probably tech-savvy enough to have a social media presence, Ramzan said. Look at this. Fletcher also recommends doing a reverse photo search of your potential date. If it appears elsewhere under a different name, avoid.
Investment deals that seem too good to be true probably are. Don’t send your money or cryptocurrency to someone you’ve only met online, even if they promise great returns.
Good cybersecurity will protect you. As always, the setup is gooduse and make sure your , and all are current. These basic practices will go a long way in protecting you if you click on or download something you shouldn’t.
Report crimes that happen. If you do fall victim to a scam, report it to the FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.