Online dating is tough. I should know, I certainly gave it a try. I was young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and not at all interested in finding love at church, school, or via a matchmaking relative. It took a while, but eventually, the right person came along and virtually swept me off my feet with online conversations about our mutual love for the Southern-style macaroni and cheese dishes served in our respective workplace cafeterias. We FaceTimed a few hours later, met in person days later, and a couple of years after that, we married. Love works in mysterious ways.
My story is a happy one, but a growing number of people are finding headaches and heartbreaks on dating sites and chat apps as scammers look to cash in on people looking for love online. The popular Netflix documentary film “The Tinder Swindler” shows how a man posing as a mogul tried to woo women online and bilk them out of millions. The US Federal Trade Commission issued a report outlining common lies scammers use to get their victims to send them money. Here are some highlights:
Scammers often say they live or work abroad.
Scam artists love long-distance relationships. Whether the person claims to be a doctor working overseas, an active duty military member, or a lonely oil rig worker, ask pointed questions about their background and profession.
Scammers ask for money.
That train is never late. If someone starts asking you for money to pay for travel expenses, medical procedures, customs fees, or a visa, they may be a scammer. Never send money to someone you only know online.
Scammers ask for payment via anonymous transfers.
Wire transfers and reloadable gift cards are popular in the criminal community. Again, don’t send money to someone you only talk to online.
So who are the people falling for these scams? How do scammers groom their victims? I recently talked to Ashley Rose, CEO of Living Security, an online security training firm, about the dangers of online dating and what people can watch out for as they seek their soulmate online.
Rose told me that historically elders were prime targets for a romantic ruse because they were less tech-savvy, but today’s scammers use information they glean from social media posts to groom victims of all ages and gain their trust.
“The biggest factor is the amount of time and energy that these scammers and criminals are putting into grooming,” Rose said. “Getting to know you, empathizing, really spending that time to build a connection before coming in and asking for a loan, or funding, or an investment. It’s really causing smart, savvy, highly technical people to break down their guard and unfortunately get victimized.”
Rose added that scammers take advantage of the highly detailed information that people share online to build rapport and gain your confidence. “If you are talking about your favorite sports team, it becomes their favorite sports team. Anything that’s very personal can help them form a quicker connection, which is what the scammers are looking for, so try to protect that type of information.”
I asked Rose about red flags and warning signs. Here are five questions to ask yourself or a loved one before developing a romantic relationship that started online:
Is the relationship moving too quickly?
Rose said scammers try to lock down the relationship quickly. “We’re seeing a lot of these scammers trying to get your heart connected. So they’re saying, ‘I love you’ and they’re kind of moving very fast in the relationship,” she said.
Are the photos and videos legit?
It’s important to verify whether the person sending you photos is the person you’re speaking to online. Rose said, “If they’re sending you images, you can do reverse image searches on Google. A lot of these scammers are taking people’s pictures from social media accounts or somewhere else online and sending them.”
Is your new love asking you for a lot of personal information?
In some instances, your personal information is even more valuable than cash to a scammer looking to commit identity fraud. Rose said, “Things like your birthday, your social security number, your banking information—all of that can actually [allow] the scammer to take on your identity.”
Is your relationship only existing online?
Be wary of people who always have an excuse to not meet in person. “If you’re trying to meet up and you set a time and date, and then, ‘oh, I have a business trip that came up’ or somebody got sick or this happened,’ they’re avoiding in-person meetups,” which Rose warned is a common red flag.
Is a person you’ve never met in real life asking you for money?
Money requests in any form are a giant red flag when it comes to online dating, especially for older victims. Rose said, “Don’t send money to anyone you meet online. That should just be across the board.”
I know this advice sounds a bit depressing, but you can still find love and affection online. The important thing, according to Rose, is to go into the relationship with a healthy dose of skepticism and proceed slowly from that point. Scammers are usually impatient and will move on, while a real love match grows at its own pace.
Like what you’re reading? You’ll love it delivered to your inbox weekly. Sign up for the SecurityWatch newsletter.
What Is a SIM-Swapping Attack and How Can You Avoid It?
SIM-swapping attacks are on the rise in the United States, according to the FBI, resulting in victim losses of $68 million in 2021. A SIM-swap is when a criminal tricks a cellular provider into cloning someone else’s mobile phone number to a new SIM card. The crook uses identity theft to pull off the impersonation or bribes cellular provider employees for access. As PCMag reporter Michael Kan notes, a SIM swap is destructive because many services, such as email, banking, and crypto, rely on mobile phone numbers to recover account access if users forget their passwords.
Recommended by Our Editors
“Once the SIM is swapped, the victim’s calls, texts, and other data are diverted to the criminal’s device. This access allows criminals to send ‘Forgot Password’ or ‘Account Recovery’ requests to the victim’s email and other online accounts associated with the victim’s mobile telephone number,” the FBI warned.
How can you protect yourself from this form of identity theft? The FBI recommends the following:
Avoid posting personal information online, such as phone numbers and addresses.
Do not advertise information about your financial assets on social media.
Use unique, strong passwords for all your online accounts. We recommend storing your passwords in a password manager.
Use multi-factor authentication such as physical security keys or authenticator apps rather than SMS-based authentication.
Avoid storing passwords, usernames, or other sensitive information on your mobile devices.
What Else Is Happening in the Security World This Week?
Hacker Circulates Fake, Malware-Laden Windows 11 Installer. The hacker created a look-alike Microsoft Windows site to trick users into downloading the malware.
Apple’s Latest Security Update Addresses WebKit Zero-Day. The company says a vulnerability in the WebKit browser engine ‘may have been actively exploited.’
Apple: If You Abuse AirTags for Stalking, Expect Police to Come Knocking. Facing privacy concerns about AirTags, Apple says it’s been working with law enforcement to track down users who’ve been abusing the devices for spying purposes.
With DELETE Act, Senators Want a ‘Do Not Call’ List for Data Brokers. The bipartisan bill would set up a process for a one-time opt-out from data collection.
There Were 2 Internets, Until the CIA Helped Destroy One. Project Cybersyn was an advanced computer network developed in Chile in the 1970s. Here’s how the US killed it.
Like What You’re Reading?
Sign up for SecurityWatch newsletter for our top privacy and security stories delivered right to your inbox.