- Catfish scams have surged during the pandemic, as people spend more time on the internet, isolated from social gatherings.
- South African scammers who have created fake profiles to feign romantic interest for financial gain defrauded some R134 million in 2020, according to a study by Techshielder.
- And while South Africa only accounts for 2% of all reported catfish incidents in the top-20 countries, the average victim loses almost three times more money when falling for a South African scammer.
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Online scammers in South Africa who create fake profiles to attract and then defraud people looking for romance have cost victims around R134 million, according to a global catfishing report.
The global Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have led to a surge in online interactions. It’s also led to isolation, with people cooped up indoors, unable to engage at social gatherings and disrupting traditional forms of dating. Scammers have capitalised on this global sense of desperation.
Reports of catfishing fraud increased by more than 20% in 2020, according to UK Finance. The real figure is likely to be much higher, as victims of romance scams are often too embarrassed to report it to the authorities.
Catfish scams, defined as deceptive online activities intended to target a specific victim, aren’t new. But the rise in internet access over the past decade has seen a steady increase in these types of fraudulent schemes, with perpetrators creating fake online personas and feigning romantic interests to lure their victims.
Believing they are romantically involved with someone online, the victims are persuaded to wire money into an account or provide access to private information – like credit card details – which is used to commit further acts of fraud.
And while catfishing is most commonly connected to romantic schemes, the act of creating a fake online profile for the purpose of defrauding victims can also come in the form of family, friends, or business relationships. This is according to Techshielder, a website which reviews online security and recently compiled a global report on the cost of catfishing scams.
The report details the number of catfish scams flagged in a particular country and the total money lost to this form of fraud in 2020. Techshielder estimates that dating scams cost victims around the world some $218 million (R3.1 billion).
Of the 20 countries with the highest number of reported catfish scams, South Africa ranks at 18, having recorded 190 incidents in 2020. These scams cost victims some R134 million.
Although South Africa only accounts for 2% of all reported catfish incidents in the top-20 countries, victims are defrauded out of a disproportionately higher amount of money. The average victim defrauded by South African scammers lost $49,231.58 (R701,000), almost three times the global average and second only to China.
The highest overall losses, of $34,124,000 (R488 million), were recorded in the UK. The highest number of catfishing incidents, 1,315, were reported in the Philippines, followed closely by Nigeria with 1,129.
“In today’s society, it’s normal to meet and build a relationship online, especially during a pandemic,” said Lasse Walstad, cofounder at Techshielder.
“There are people out there who will take advantage of those looking for love, thus before you fall for the whirlwind that is love or send any money, look out for any red flags. If it’s too good to be true, then it usually is.”
(Compiled by Luke Daniel)