February 14th, the day men spend the GDP of several small countries on flowers, chocolates, teddy bears and presents for their loved ones. The only requirement is it has to have a heart on it or be red. Women also spend big on Valentine’s day but not in the same league as shell-shocked men often seen wandering about shopping centres in a veritable retail daze.
While most of these presents end up with someone the buyer really knows, an increasing amount do not. Internet scams around dating are rife. One dating agency in Ukraine is believed to have a deal with several local stores. They rent out bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates to the women who work for the agency. Photos of these women with the flowers and chocolates are taken, grateful emails are sent and the mark, because that’s what they are, is duly fleeced.
There was a young women man from Smolensk
Advice on the dangers of Internet dating abounds. The Kaspersky Lab Daily has published its own advice around Internet dating. It contains a number of warnings over the dangers of dating online. For example, the arrest in Russia last year of two men from Smolensk. They pretended to be young women desperate for love but with big sob stories. By the time the police caught up with them, they had made around 1 million roubles (US$17,300).
The BBC has carried its owns warnings over online dating scams showing women are just as likely to be targeted as men. It reported on the Date Safe campaign this week. The UK police told the BBC that the average dating scam victim is 49 and loses £10,000. There are reports of some people losing 10 times that amount and sometimes even more. In the US the average loss per victim is estimated at around $15,000.
The Ukraine scam is very sophisticated. To communicate you need email credit and 4 credits cost $5. A bunch of flowers is $75. Flights to visit can often mean meeting in places like Cyprus where the victim is expected to pay for all flights. The reason for this is always put down as Visa issues. There is the constant request for cash to pay for professional courses. With all calls and communication routed through the offices of the agency, it means everything runs up a bill and that means grabbing the victims credit card data. It doesn’t take much to see how this can run up a loss of £10,000 or more for the victim.
How do you protect yourself from the Valentine’s day scam?
Kaspersky describes a number of different ways these scams are initiated and provides advice on how to deal with them. Some of them include:
Mutual connection: Stranger contacts victim over social media and claims to have met at a wedding. Kaspersky says you should check your image posts on social media as this is where the scammer gets their information. The recommendation is to tighten privacy settings and drop the conversation.
Intimate Activity: It starts as an Internet romance and then moves to a video chat. The victim is tricked into exposing themselves or even committing a sex act. The problem is the scammer has recorded it and threatens to send it to all their contacts. This is a scam that has been very lucrative in conservative cultures such as the Middle East. Kaspersky recommends never getting into a video session with someone you’ve never met in real life and to keep your clothes on.
Fake dating sites: The more data scammers can get on you the better. They will use complex questionnaires that Kaspersky warns are heavy on the financial details and light on information about you. The obvious sign they are fake is the large number of responses when you’ve given away hardly any personal data. Ignore sites where the questionnaire is more concerned about income than personality.
There is always the risk that anything on the Internet is a scam. The problem is that once scammers have their hooks into you they will continue to take, take, take. Spotting some of the scams is easy, spotting others is hard. Valentine’s Day and dating scams rely on manipulation of feelings. Be very aware when any online contact starts probing for money. It might only seem like a small amount to begin with but it will soon become a constant drip that quickly drains funds.
Seeking help can be hard and often embarrassing. This is what the scammers rely on. They can only be stopped by people reporting what has happened and starting an investigations. Interestingly banks and credit card companies are beginning to do their bit. They are quick to spot fraud and can often block access to a card or account. It is always worth finding out why and if it related to an online relationship, ask why it looks like fraud. Remember that they have a detailed database of fraudulent accounts and activity to draw on. You only have emotions which can be hard to set aside.
As Kaspersky said in their piece, “have a safe date.”