Don’t be fooled this Valentine’s Day

Don’t be fooled this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult time for singles, but be careful who you connect with. That beautiful blonde woman or that smoking hot guy texting you might be after more than just your love and affection.

Experts warn this is peak season for online love scams, which caused a staggering $1.3 billion in losses last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The pandemic and our increasingly digital lives mean anyone feeling particularly lonely this season could be a potential target.

It often starts with a seemingly innocuous message on social media. You imagine yourself as a woman in a war-torn country or as a man working on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. It is never accessible to anyone.

“There’s always an excuse why they can’t meet in person,” said Emma Fletcher, a senior FTC data researcher who worked on the commission’s 2022 numbers. “It’s burned into the identity they’ve adopted.”

Eventually, the scammer will ask for money and will often play with their target’s heart to get them to send the money. They might say they need it to escape a dangerous situation, or just to buy a plane ticket to visit, said Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, a consumer-facing cybersecurity company.

Once they have the money, the scammer and the victim’s dollars just disappear.

It’s a legitimate threat as online dating and connecting through apps is the norm rather than the exception.

Additionally, Ramzan said the pandemic has pushed daily life further online, keeping many people at home and away from bars and restaurants where they may have previously met on a first date. It’s a lot more plausible now that distant romances were blossoming.

Aura, Ramzan’s company, surveyed 1,000 Americans about their experiences with dating apps in January. 30 percent of these individuals said they discovered suspected fraudulent behavior, while 17 percent admitted having experienced fraud themselves.

Of the group who were scammed, 13 percent said they lost money, with their losses averaging more than $2,000.

“Either people haven’t learned anything, or the scammers are getting better and better,” Ramzan said.

In fact, they have become more aggressive and sophisticated.

Both Ramzan and Fletcher pointed to a sharp increase in cryptocurrency scams, which accounted for 34 percent of the losses reported to the FTC over the past year. By its very nature, crypto can be largely anonymous and extremely difficult to trace, which generally means that if it’s stolen, it’s lost forever.

Although some scammers ask their victims to send them crypto for the same bogus reasons as cash, more and more cybercriminals are pushing fake crypto investment plans, Fletcher said.

The scammers pose as sophisticated investors who want to help the person they are targeting and promise them great returns if they invest their cryptos with them. People will drop their vigilance because they think they will be the one who gets something, she said.

It’s now human nature to see what he wants to see, whether it’s for love or money.

“People just think that’s not going to happen to them,” Fletcher said. “But it’s important to remember that the people it happened to thought that too.”

Tips to avoid scams on Valentine’s Day

Be wary of anyone who comes up unsolicited via email, text message, or social media message. There’s 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 scammers. It’s bad for their reputation, Ramzan said. Be careful if someone wants to move your communication to an external messaging app like WhatsApp or Signal.

Never give money to people you only met online. If someone you have never met in person asks for money to travel to the US to see you, to pay for medical care, or to help deal with a sudden tragedy, you should consider this a scam. The same goes for the keys to your cryptocurrency wallets.

Protect your private data. Never send personal information like your social security number. If someone asks for nude or otherwise explicit photos, say no. According to the FTC, cases of “sextortion,” where 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 websites are likely tech-savvy enough to have a social media presence, Ramzan said. Listen. Fletcher also recommends doing a reverse image search on your potential date’s photo. If it appears elsewhere under a different name, avoid it.

Investment deals that seem too good to be true probably are. Don’t send your money or crypto to someone you only met online, even if they promise great returns.

Good cyber security protects you. As always, set good passwords, use two-factor authentication, and make sure your antivirus software, operating systems, and apps are up to date. These basic practices go a long way in protecting you when you click or download something you shouldn’t.

Report crimes that happen. If you are a victim of fraud, report it to the FTC and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

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