GONE ARE the days when introducing oneself to prospective romantic partners required actual physical effort (and mental courage). Today it is so much easier — and convenient — to log on to online dating sites which use algorithms to try and find you a perfect date — or, as Russian cybersecurity and antivirus provider Kaspersky puts it, “the equivalent of a caveman ordering pizza delivery instead of hunting.”
To show the popularity of dating sites, one just has to know that what is arguably the largest online dating company, Match Group Inc. (the company behind the super-popular Tinder and Match.com and 45 other dating brands) posted $316.4 million in revenue for the third quarter of 2016 compared with $269 million in the same quarter of 2015, according to statistics portal, Statista.
But while it might be infinitely easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger while hiding behind a screen, one is still vulnerable to scams. Just consider that cable network MTV created Catfish: The TV Show — now on its fifth season — which revolves around people who get scammed while dating online.
“Catfish,” as an online dating term, pertains to a person who creates an elaborate fake profile on social media or dating sites with the intention of tricking unsuspecting people into falling in love with them and often getting money, or more, out of them.
With this in mind, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kaspersky Lab came up with a list of common online dating scams so online daters can avoid getting catfish-ed or worse.
“As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, everyone, especially single folks, will be scurrying to find themselves a date with a potential Mr. or Ms. Right. One of the many ways would be through the use of internet dating sites or apps. We would like to arm everyone with knowledge about common romance scams and how to avoid these fraudsters so you can skip the fake romance and seek out your true love instead,” said Sylvia Ng, General Manager at Kaspersky Lab Southeast Asia, in the press release.
THE SCAMS ARE:
1. Mutual connection. This is where a scammer contacts you using social channels claiming that you both have a common interest or mutual connection through a wedding or large gathering.
“If you’re a serial poster of pictures and haven’t updated your privacy settings, it’s easy guesswork for the cybercriminals,” said the company in a release.
“If you receive such a claim, and no matter how desperate you are, dismiss the conversation and never add that person as a friend. Also, update your privacy settings to share with only those you know,” it adds.
2. Intimate Activity. This is said to be a “very common scam” for those in long-distance internet dating relationship. The scammer asks the victim to connect with them via webcam and chat and eventually claims that his/her webcam is broken. The scammer convinces his/her partner (whose webcam is working) to engage in intimate acts via webcam before revealing his/her true identity, claiming to have made a recording of the acts and threatening the other party that the video will be shared on the internet unless hush money is given.
“If it involves a webcam and you are asked to perform indecent acts, never ever give into to the demands, no matter what they are. If the relationship is real, then you would wait to meet each other in person,” the company said.
3. Fake Dating Sites. Kaspersky cited the 2015 Ashley Madison leak where hackers stole the user database of the web site which specialized in facilitating extramarital affairs — it turned out that the site was awash with fake women’s accounts as many of which were created from the same IP address. The leak offers a glimpse into the world of fake dating sites. Services claim to offer legitimate meet-ups, but are either severely underpopulated or awash with scammers and bots.
“Look out for sign-up questionnaires that are light on personal details, but heavy on questions about finances. Also, watch for an influx of attention just after you’ve created your profile. If all your profile contains is a few lines of text, no photo, and no set preferences, but you start getting message after message from potential suitors, chances are you’ve stumbled across a fake dating site,” said the press release.
But even on legitimate dating sites, scammers abound, Kaspersky warns, noting that people should be aware of several warning signs including:
1. Suspicious spelling and grammar as native English speakers “have a natural cadence when they speak and write that isn’t easily mimicked.”
2. Cut-and-paste messages as “scammers won’t bother writing their own material, but instead lift it from other websites or dating profiles.” The company suggests running the suspicious text through a cursory internet search to see if any matches come up.
3. Weird links as scammers would “typically fill their profiles with links to low-quality spam sites that are trying to sell a product or to teach you to ‘get rich quick’,” or to porn websites.
4. Where scammers rush the new romance by “offering not only a huge volume of compliments and kind words but also intimate details of their own life that they have ‘never shared with anyone else.’”
“What can be even more troubling is if after just a few chat sessions or e-mails, they’re asking for a small amount of money to cover strange expenses — perhaps they’re stranded in a foreign country, have a family member in medical distress or have just been robbed, and need you to wire transfer money ASAP,” the press release said.
It is a wild virtual world out there and it pays to be careful, even in love.