Valentine’s Day is approaching fast. And on this day, if anyone is more active than lovers around the world, it is the cybercriminals.
Cybercriminals always look for opportunities to take advantage of oblivious online consumers. From counterfeit gift scams to fake dating apps, their presence is everywhere.
Research from security firm Check Point revealed that over 400 Valentine’s Day-themed phishing campaigns were active every week in January 2021. It also found a 29% year-over-year increase in Valentine’s Day-themed domains registered, out of which many be malicious or suspicious.
FBI Houston said the scammers are master manipulators who use careful tactics to convince the victim that they should help them out of so-called love. FBI Houston spokesperson Christina Garza said Americans reported nearly $133 B in losses due to the romance scam in 2021.
The prime focus of these scams is on Buyer Fraud.
Attackers usually use phishing emails, websites, and text messages to trick users into clicking shady URLs or downloading malicious attachments. For instance, a phishing email claiming to be from Pandora, a Danish jewellery manufacturer, was used in Black Friday-related phishing campaigns in November 2020. Attackers tried to attract users into purchasing jewellery items by offering unreliable discounted prices on a fake Pandora webpage.
Simply put, these attacks aim to exploit the human nature of wanting a good deal at lower prices. And Valentine’s week is a period when lovers worldwide actively look for gifts for their partners and friends, making them ideal targets.
Another focus here is on Online Dating Scams.
Especially during the pandemic, people looked for love online extensively, letting a more extensive playground for online scammers. In 2021, Interpol issued a notice to its 194 member countries, including India, that fraudsters were scamming people on dating apps and asked users to stay vigilant and safe when entering online relationships. The Netflix documentary Tinder Swindler covers this subject extensively, where an imposter dupes multiple women for money by faking it.
We need to understand that dating and romance scams aren’t limited to online dating apps and sites; they’ll happen on social media and online games too. It starts simply with an introduction. Once a friendship (or more) blossoms from there, the scammer will often rely on a mix of somewhat exotic yet believable storytelling to lure the victim in, often involving their job and where they’re working. Reports say that scammers will talk of being workers on an offshore oil rig, military members stationed overseas, doctors working with an international organization, or working in the sort of jobs that would prevent them from otherwise efficiently meeting up in person. Hence, harder to locate and thereby keep their identities secret.
Once the trust is built, personal and financial details are exchanged, leading to severe reputational damages and monetary fraud.
Let’s understand how to avoid being a victim here.
- Verify Your Seller: Valentine’s demands exchanging of gifts. Ensure that you order online from an authentic seller. You may receive spam offers on Valentine’s gifts that can redirect you to a fake website, install malware on your device or lure you into entering your financial and personal details, leading to more extensive fraud. Although it sounds super-tempting, Tiffany Co. will not send you a complimentary proposal ring just for clicking their email banner! So, avoid clicking on unreliable promotional links. Instead, do a quick Google search for your desired retailer and check the reviews and opinions before choosing an online gifting platform.
- Beware of Fraud Offers: An attractive 50% discount on the new AirPods is usually not a reliable or trustworthy purchase opportunity! Do not fall for such scams and avoid making online transactions. Misspelt emails, look-alike domains, unfamiliar senders or poor graphics could also mean a tell-tale sign of shady offers that you should sidestep. To check if the offer is legitimate, go to the official website and confirm it genuinely exists before continuing.
- Be Aware of Spammy Greeting Cards: Digital greeting cards are all in rage these days. Beautiful animations with soothing music and soulful messages are a sure shot way to win hearts. But cybercriminals use this route to send their hostile bids to obtain financial benefits or harm you with their motives by simply redirecting you to a malicious website and compromising your personal and banking information. Such spammy greeting cards contain messages that trap you by downloading third-party software to get your credit card details, download ransomware on your device or destroy your entire reputation with immoral demands. It is advised to avoid clicking links sent by untrustworthy sources and report the incidents to the authorities straight away.
- Be Vigilant on Social Media: Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others give you the option of making your profile and posts visible to friends only. Choosing this setting keeps the broader internet from seeing what you’re doing, saying, and posting, which can help protect your privacy and give a romance scammer less information to exploit. Be critical of the invitations you receive. Out-and-out strangers could be more than a romance scammer. They could be a fake account designed to gather information on users for cybercrime purposes, or they can be an account intended to spread false information. There are plenty of them too. In fact, in Q3 of 2021 alone, Facebook took action on 1.8 billion fake accounts. Reject such requests.
- Protect Your Privacy: We can’t emphasize the thumb rule of the online world enough – never share your personal and financial details, especially when it comes to online dating apps. These dating platforms have a darker side too, where cybercriminals create fake profiles to connect with their desperate victims by luring them into financial scams or, in the worst scenario, harassing victims with evil intentions. Understanding these risks, be mindful of who you connect with while online dating. A safer way is to use disposable email addresses to prevent spamming and phishing attacks. And report any suspicious activity you encounter.
- Protect Your Devices: Keep your system updated with the latest security patches, completely avoid unlicensed software, and ensure your anti-virus is updated.
Unlike in love, cybersecurity is not a place to be blinded. So be aware of your digital surroundings and keep your loved ones and yourself away from online scams.