The Interpol (International Criminal Police Organisation) warns of fraudsters targeting dating app users and attempting to trick them into investing through fake trading apps.
The warning was issued to all 194 member states as a Purple Notice after Interpol’s Financial Crimes Unit has received reports of people around the world falling victim to this scam.
Such fraud attempts have become increasingly easier to pull off since a lot of people have switched to online dating and interactions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victims tricked into installing fake trading apps
“The threat involves taking advantage of people’s vulnerabilities as they look for potential matches, and luring them into a sophisticated fraud scheme,” the Interpol said.
“In the initial stages, an artificial romance is established via a dating app. Once communication becomes regular and a certain level of trust is established, criminals share investment tips with their victims and encourage them to join a scheme.”
The victims are then encouraged by the scammers to download and open an account on a trading app so that they can reach Gold or VIP status after working their way up “the investment chain.”
Fraudsters coordinating this scheme also act as customer service agents for the fake investment platform “helping” victims to choose products available through sites using domains very similar to legitimate platforms.
“One day, however, all contact stops and victims are locked out of the account,” the Interpol added. “They’re left confused, hurt, and worried that they’ll never see their money again.”
How to protect yourself from fraud attempts
To avoid losing their money after being targeted by these ongoing fraud schemes, Interpol urges dating app users to be vigilant while using dating platforms and to be skeptical when entering online relationships.
Interpol also shared a number of tips that should help dating platform users defend against financial fraud attempts:
- Always be vigilant when you are approached by someone you don’t know, especially if it leads to a request for money;
- Be skeptical: online investments with promises of fast, amazing returns are often too good to be true;
- Think twice before transferring money, however genuine the request might seem;
- Do your research: check reviews, double-check the app, the domain name, the email address, etc;
- Don’t disclose personal/confidential information;
- If you realize you’ve been the victim of a fraud, report it.
Last year, Interpol also advised victims of online financial scams to immediately take action to intercept the funds before their money reaches the scammers’ accounts.
This is possible because the victims’ bank can request payment cancellation by contacting the fraudsters’ bank so that the transaction can be blocked and the money refunded as long as they weren’t withdrawn by the scammers.
“Many people think that there is nothing that can be done once a victim’s money is transferred abroad but there are systems in place to recall fraudulent transactions,” Tomonobu Kaya, Interpol Financial Crimes Coordinator, said at the time.
“There are systems in place and people to help intercept fraudulent transactions. The key is to call your bank, call the police and – most importantly – act quickly. When it comes to combating online scams and other types of fraud, there is no time to waste.”
Romance scams targeting U.S. citizens
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also warned of the danger behind online romance scams which can lead to large financial losses and, in some cases, disastrous emotional scars.
The 2019 Internet Crime Report published by FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) says the losses associated with almost 20,000 romance scam complaints exceeded $475 million in 2019.
The FBI says that romance scam victims might also be recruited as money mules and persuaded to transfer money illegally on the fraudsters’ behalf.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s website lists hundreds of cases where scammers were either indicted or found guilty of running large-scale romance scam fraud schemes targeting U.S. citizens.