14 February 2014

Valentine’s Day is a common target for scammers. Online dating scams are known to cheat Australian’s out of millions of dollars every year, but Valentine’s Day scams may also include also other common approaches such as fake email and spam, fake mobile apps or even malicious online advertising.

Do not drop your guard this Valentine’s Day. Scammers will break your heart and take your money.

Online dating scams

Users of online dating sites need to be aware that scammers use these sites to access victims. Scammers can spend weeks and months making contact, building trust and developing a relationship with you. They can seem entirely genuine, sharing (fake) photos, carrying phone conversations, giving presents or making other convincing gestures.

Money is usually their primary target, with many scammers and organised criminals operating from overseas locations beyond the reach of Australian law.

Commonly, once a relationship is struck up, stories of hardship or need will lead to requests for money—sometimes just small amounts, but this can lead to larger requests and pressure being applied. Other versions may involve requests for money as a down payment to release “locked up” funds, or payments for legal or financial services.

Regardless of how the relationship progresses, any request for money should be cause for alarm.

Scammers may not, however, always ask for money. Other versions of online dating scams have involved victims meeting the scammer on a dating site, before moving their conversations to other sites where the relationship becomes intimate. These conversations have been known to be recorded and later used to extort the victim for money.

You can watch this video where a victim of a real life online dating scam talks frankly about her experience.

SCAMwatch also provides detailed information on avoiding dating and romance scams.

Other Valentine's Day scams

Spam emails regularly leverage Valentine’s Day too. Malicious emails frequently circulate at this time of year carrying malware or links to malicious websites. The emails can include subject lines related Valentine’s Day, and this includes, of course, fake courier delivery notifications pretending to advise you that a package for you cannot be delivered.

Other known scams can include fake ads for Valentine’s Day sales or products being placed online. Clicking those ads can lead to malicious websites or fraudulent websites selling counterfeit goods, or even nothing at all, they will just take your credit card details. Make sure you trust the sites you use, and that you are going to the correct URL. Do not rely on ads to take you to the correct website, type it in yourself.

Mobile apps developed around Valentine’s Day themes can also be popular, but some of these may request excessive permissions, such as accessing your contacts, locations or browsing history. Understand the permissions an app requests and if you are not comfortable with it, do not allow it.

Stay Smart Online’s website has lots of good advice on how to protect yourself online from these kinds of scams.

More information

In the US, the FBI has recently issued warnings to the public about online dating scams.

Stay Smart Online has previously warned about fake online shopping websites, malicious mobile apps and apps that request excessive permissions.

The information provided here is of a general nature. Everyone's circumstances are different. If you require specific advice you should contact your local technical support provider.

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Disclaimer

This information has been prepared by Enex TestLab for the Department of Communications ('the Department'). It was accurate and up to date at the time of publishing.

This information is general information only and is intended for use by private individuals and small to medium sized businesses. If you are concerned about a specific cyber security issue you should seek professional advice.

The Commonwealth, Enex TestLab, and all other persons associated with this advisory accept no liability for any damage, loss or expense incurred as a result of the provision of this information, whether by way of negligence or otherwise.

Nothing in this information (including the listing of a person or organisation or links to other web sites) should be taken as an endorsement of a particular product or service.

Please note that third party views or recommendations included in this information do not reflect the views of the Commonwealth, or indicate its commitment to a particular course of action. The Commonwealth also cannot verify the accuracy of any third party material included in this information.

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