The cost of romance scams as Valentine’s Day nears.
N2K logoFeb 10, 2023

As the holiday of love approaches, scammers are seen increasingly using romance as a lure for cybercrime.

The cost of romance scams as Valentine’s Day nears.

Scammers have been observed participating in “romance fraud” campaigns as the Hallmark holiday of love nears. Scams have been seen targeting users of dating apps, utilizing pig butchering fraud techniques, and increasingly using “sextortion” scams.

Is it a fraudster, or your next coffee date?

Georgia State University released a study detailing the primary hunting grounds for fraudsters this season: dating apps. Fangzhou Wang, a doctoral student in the university’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and the primary author of the study, says that her and her fellow researchers “really wanted to take advantage of open intelligence data sources to find out what these fraudsters were doing that was so effective. The purpose is to identify patterns and uncover strategies that users can adopt to protect themselves.” The research analyzed victims approached on popular social media sites or dating apps and sites. Emotional triggers are a common method these scammers have been observed using, manufacturing faux crises to extort money from victims. Movements away from dating apps to private email and messaging communications can also be a red flag, researchers report, often with pressure applied on the victim to make quick decisions.

The FTC at this time of year is the Bureau d’Amour. Who knew?

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is displaying some unexpected expertise in matters of the heart (we’d always thought the US Government's experts in such things were for the most part found among Marine Corps aviators). The FTC assesses the amount of sheer financial damage romance scams caused in 2022 at $1.3 billion, stolen from almost 70,000 individuals. And, of course, there’s no accounting for the toll they took in sadness, humiliation, shame, despair, and deeper loneliness. 

The FTC has tracked the top lies romance scammers tell, and they’re an interesting but sadly familiar collection. Here they are, from least to most prevalent (the comments outside of the quotation marks come courtesy of our Dating Desk, and don’t represent the opinions of the Federal Trade Commission or, for that matter, of any US Marine Corps aviators)::

  • “You can trust me with your private pictures,” brings up the rear at 3%, and shows the unpleasant trend toward sextortion among the scammers.
  • “I’m on an oil rig or ship.” Ahoy, love. This surprisingly specialized come-on made up 7% of the attempts. Tell Romeo to stay safely offshore, if you get this one.
  • With 7%, we see “I’ve come into some money or gold.” This one’s a throwback, especially if the nominal author is a widowed Nigerian princess in distress.
  • “We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage.” 12% of the scammers are cold-calling for love.
  • “I need help with an important delivery” accounted for 18%. Extra credit if it’s from a Nigerian cabinet minister.
  • “I’m in the military far away.” The appropriate response to the 18% of messages that include this one would be, good, stay there (and thank you for your service).
  • “I can teach you how to invest.” And at 18%, this one probably delivers some ROI to the scammers.
  • And the most common lie, at 24%, is, “I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail.” This one seems particularly loathsome, with its attempt to take advantage of the marks’ sympathy and better inclinations.

And thanks to the FTC, by the way, for the advice. Read it and heed it, lovers everywhere.

Pig butchering fraud techniques abound.

Pig butchering scams, which we’ve discussed previously, extort money from victims after they’ve established a sense of trust. Victims eventually are pressured to invest in “cryptocurrency,” or, in reality, an illegitimate website that will fill the pockets of scammers with any money you may invest, the Register wrote today. The outlet reports that European police in January saw the arrest of 15 malicious actors and the seizure of a multinational call center network that had funneled hundreds of millions of euros from victims shilling fake cryptocurrency, as well as the seizure of seven pig-butchering domains in the US that put $10 million in the pockets of scammers.

The dangers of virtual intimacy.

The Register also reports the increasing risk associated with the exchange of NSFW photos, as “sextortion” scams have been escalating. These scams are defined by the threat of leaking the inappropriate photos to the victim’s social media contacts unless victims pay. The primary demographic targeted in these campaigns are people aged 18-29, with more than half of the reports of sextortion scams last year noting social media as the primary method of contact.

Mika Aalto, security software vendor Hoxhunt’s Chief Executive, explains the effectiveness of these scams, despite peoples’ best judgment to The Register: "After a little reconnaissance by the attacker, it's common for victims to get hooked on a site like Facebook or Instagram with a flirty message. The picture of a scammer posing as an attractive person can create a strong emotional connection that bypasses a person's typical skepticism. From there, the relationship can feel incredibly real."