Last year one of the largest cases of scamming came to light. Authorities in the US charged around 80 people with stealing around $46 million. This was done via a variety of schemes aimed at all those who were seeking love online. Most of those indicted were Nigerian. As noted by the Associated Press “We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history.” The acting Attorney Nick Hanna went onto say “We are taking a major step to disrupt these criminal networks.”
The stories are incredible. A Japanese woman involved in this case had $200,000 stolen from her in an effort to help what she thought was an American army captain to get out of Syria along with some of his colleagues. They had met online and had been emailing over a number of months. However, the army captain did not exist and the story was fictitious. This woman has been profoundly affected by what has happened to her and it has left her bereft and depressed about the losses she has incurred. The amounts involved can be very significant, far more than winning an Intertops casino bonus, if you are lucky.
The problem is growing
The Federal Trade Commission has given a serious warning that online romance related scams are considered the most serious and damaging of all online fraud. It seems that the losses from these types of fraud has literally ballooned in the last few years from around $33 million lost in 2015 to approximately $145 million in 2018. So many of these situations involve people who have been persuaded by someone they have met on a dating site to hand over large sums of money.
According to Nathan Wenzler, the senior director of cybersecurity “These kinds of romance scams are very targeted social engineering attacks, effectively ‘hacking’ the victim’s emotions, rather than trying to perform a technical assault.”
There has been an enormous increase in the number of love scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission reaching 21,000 in 2018. In 2015 that number was 8,500. According to the FTC the average amount lost by those targeted is around $2600. The amount lost is higher for those in the older age bracket, especially over the age of 70 where the average loss is $10,000.
The usual situation is where the person targeted meets someone on a dating site or some other similar online platform. The person is usually in some far-off place and asks for money to be wired to them to help them with some crisis, an emergency.
An example of this which was reported by Gizmodo: After meeting a man who said he was a captain in the US army on a dating site, this woman got hooked on him and forwarded him money, around $700, in order for him to return home. She realized too late that she had been scammed. He then proceeded to blackmail her with nude pictures. She approached the Federal Trade Commission complaining how awful it was to “victimize and rob people just because they are lonely and vulnerable.”
Dating apps are becoming more popular and the risk of getting scammed is therefore growing. In the United States the online dating industry is worth around $1 billion. This figure is according to IBISWorld, a market research group. There are Malware bots preying on those using dating apps, trying to trick them into revealing personal information concerning bank accounts and crucial passwords.
These swindlers are helped by social media and they are becoming more common. They are able to find information about those they wish to target online and then personalize their plans. Breaches in data have been on the increase since 2005 when the number was 200. In 2018 that number had reached 1,300.
According to Wenzler, “One of the side effects of the huge number of data breaches we’ve seen over the last several years is that more and more personal data is out and available for attackers to use.” “Armed with these personal details, it becomes much easier to have conversations that may interest the victim, build trust and ultimately pose a request for money that appeals to some aspect of their personal life that the attacker has discerned from their cache of the victim’s information.”
There are a number of ways to be more careful about your behavior online.
The Federal Trade Commission urges people to not send money to anyone they may have met via an online dating site if they have not yet met in person. Be suspicious of people who don’t want to send personal photos or don’t wish to speak on the phone. If they have sent a photo it is possible using Google Image, GOOG, +0.10% search to copy/paste the image and see if the photo shows up somewhere else online.
Location-based dating apps like Tinder encourage people to connect through Facebook in an effort to be more transparent in terms of names and age. There is a limit to how many times people can change their personal information on Facebook and it doesn’t happen automatically but takes a few days.
If you suspect that you have been scammed on one of these dating sites you can complain to the Federal Trade Commission via their online complaint form. You should make sure you name the site in question.
The bottom line is to be wary of these online dating sites and always keep in mind that there is the potential to be scammed. It is okay to be wary of people until you have met them in person.