With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many organizations are offering advice on how to avoid falling for romance scams. As you're looking for love, or shopping for whatever geegaws might please your sweetie (flowers, candy, apparel, show tickets, power tools, Pokemon, etc.) keep your eyes wide open.
Valentine's Day scams. Amemus, atque caveamus?
Cupid's aim is just fine. It's his online imitators who are the lousy shots.
Bitdefender has observed a spike in Valentine’s Day-related phishing emails over the past two weeks:
“Many of the spam emails picked up by Bitdefender Antispam researchers this month offer discounts on luxury perfumes, floral arrangements, jewelry, male enhancement pills or supplements, adult toys and even seafood,” Bitdefender says. “Although the emails may look legitimate at first, the bogus correspondence embeds images in the email body, a popular tactic used by spammers to bypass anti-spam filters that scan for text content.”
Many of the emails, with subject lines such as “ukrainian girls are seeking for true love,” can easily be recognized as spam, but Bitdefender notes that “[t]he scammers behind the campaign send out tens of thousands of requests for online dates using revealing photos and adult-themed content among other lures.” The scammers know that most people won’t fall for these emails, but due to the volume of their spam, they can count on some lonely hearts falling for their tricks.
On a day dedicated to affairs of the heart, did you notice how the spleen always seems to weigh in?
The US FBI issued an alert last week outlining the following signs of a romance scam:
- “Immediate attempts to communicate by email or messaging services outside of a dating site
- “Claims to be from the U.S. but is currently living or traveling abroad
- “Claims that being introduced was ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’
- “Reports a sudden personal crisis and pressures you to provide financial help
- “Disappears suddenly from a site, but reappears under a different name
- “Asks for money, goods, or other types of financial assistance without having met in person”
The Bureau continues with the following recommendations to avoid falling victim to these scams:
- “Never send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
- “Never give someone your banking or credit card information without verifying a recipient’s identity.
- “Never share your Social Security Number or other personally identifiable information with someone who does not need to know the information.
- “Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- “Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- “Go slowly and ask the other person lots of questions.”
TikTok (of all people) is sounding like a grown-up.
TikTok has also offered useful advice on how to recognize romance scams on social media:
- “Take it slowly. Swindlers are quick to profess their affection and take conversations off apps. They often try to draw in victims with love-filled texts, emails, or calls. A best practice is to vet your new heartthrob by asking questions, and pay attention to inconsistencies that may reveal your crush as an impostor.
- “Keep your funds (and personal information) to yourself. If you've never met in person, don't send or exchange money via gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency, and don't share personal details like bank account, home address, or other sensitive information.
- “Don't play games. Tools like images.google.com can help conduct a reverse image search of someone's online profile photo. If results show the same photo on another site but with a different name attached, a scammer may have stolen it. For sweet emails or text messages that sound too good to be true, copy and paste the text into a search engine to see if others have already encountered this potential fraudster.”
If it doesn't work out, let yourself down easy.
And finally, Emma McGowan at Avast offers advice on how to deal with the digital side of a breakup, in case things don’t work out next week. McGowan recommends changing the passwords for any shared accounts, particularly for bank accounts and IoT devices such as home security cameras:
"[F]or example, you might have a video doorbell, like a Ring, or maybe you have a Nest smart thermostat. Take some time to think about the different IoT devices in your home, make a list, and then go through them one by one to make sure you’re the only one who has access to them."