After analysing a wave of scams spreading worldwide before Valentine’s Day strikes again this year, Bitdefender researchers have found that pornography is no longer a scammer’s favourite bait with Valentine-themed spam containing links to pornographic videos falling by 1% in 2015.
But that doesn’t mean scammers have gone all romantic – they’re just resorting to other old tricks to leave them heart-broken, and broke.
Some seasonal scams never get old. These include fake travel offers, heart-shaped diamond jewellery, clothes, personalised e-cards, restaurant coupons and more. Here are some of the most popular Valentine’s Day scams of the season:
- Travel offers
Watch out for emails promising a romantic getaway for two or plane tickets at unbelievably low prices – you can end up paying for your trip and staying at home, too. Even offers from reputable brands should be viewed with a critical eye.
- Restaurant discounts
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but be careful not to order adware and malware with your pizza! These sites can collect your location and other very personal details which reveal your identity to thieves.
Wine-tasting events have also become quite popular and identity thieves were quick to seize on the opportunity this year. They attract wine-lovers using names of celebrities like Johnny Depp but once the users click, they can be redirected to a fake site that steals account credentials.
- Donation scams
Scammers are known to take advantage of people’s good will on any occasion and Valentine’s Day is no exception. Emails claiming to be from PETA or UNICEF encourage users to make a donation in the name of someone they love, but the money will most probably end up in hackers’ hands.
- Phony jewellery
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend but they can also prove to be their worst enemy. These types of scams are extremely popular these days, so users should research sellers’ sites before paying a lot of cash for a fake diamond ring or other precious items.
- Gift shopping
Scammers know everyone is shopping for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, be it flowers, watches or clothing items.
- Personalised e-cards
Compared to last year, there is a decrease in the number of tricks inviting users to download Valentine’s Day wallpapers or special greeting cards that redirect to fraudulent websites.
- Mysterious items
Some scammers have gone completely undercover, luring users with a mysterious offer in hopes of stirring their curiosity.
As tempted as you may be, don’t rush into buying gifts over the Internet without a detailed preliminary check. Remember these simple security tips:
- Avoid buying anything while connected to a public Wi-Fi network. If you must, use a dedicated payment solution such as Bitdefender Safepay to securely connect to your bank account or e-payment website from an unencrypted hotspot.
- Ignore spam messages. Ask friends for advice or check the legitimacy of an online shop on forums by simply googling it.
- Choose only web shops with SSL certificates to confirm their identity. A URL starting with HTTPS and a padlock at the end should indicate you are on the right page.
- Use an antivirus solution that can handle fake advertisements and get rid of them for you. Always keep your browser, your software and your antivirus updated. Banker Trojans and rootkit-based malware steal banking information, transactions or even log into your online bank accounts while laying low on your system.
This month, Australian singles will flock to the multitude of dating services that are available online. According to the eHarmony.com.au Dating Index which measured interest in dating from 2012-2014, the average yearly interest around Valentine’s Day has increased by 113% suggesting it’s becoming more entrenched in Australian culture.
With the popularity of online dating services on the rise, this has caught the attention of scammers.
What are the risks?
As with anything you post online, it’s out there for everyone to see, so you will want to be careful with what identifiable information you use in your dating profile. While there are a plethora of legitimate daters on these sites, you still don’t know what kinds of individuals you are dealing with. You can run the risk of becoming a victim of stalking, harassment, Catfishing, identity theft, webcam blackmail and even phishing scams. In order to help mitigate these risks, be very careful with what information you provide on your profile.
Profile Do’s and Don’ts:
- Create a username that you have not used on any other accounts. Your username can be searched, and anything tied to that username can come up easily.
- The same applies for the photos you post on your profile. A user can do a reverse image search and easily locate other websites where that photo is posted. So, in this case, it’s ok to go selfie crazy!
- Set up a free email account to use with your dating account that has a unique name. Most sites offer their own in-site messaging that protects the anonymity of their members; however, people will often move their conversations to email or telephone as they get more friendly online.
- When the time comes for a phone call, set up a free Google Voice account, which will generate a separate phone number and forward it to your mobile. That way you can protect your phone number until you feel comfortable enough to give it to your potential match.
- Join a paid site. Since members have to pay to communicate with each other, this means that there will be more legitimate daters and less scammers. Some of the paid sites also conduct criminal background screenings.
How to spot online dating scams:
- An individual may contact you with a sob story, about being stranded in a foreign country, or a sudden family emergency. If they ask you for money, you should report them to the service you are using and then block them.
- To help verify the identity of the person that you’re talking to, ask for a recent photo. If they protest or makes excuses as to why they can’t provide a photo, it is best to err on the side of caution.
- If you’ve been chatting up a potential sweetheart for a while, and they continually put off meeting in real life, this could be a red flag.
- Don’t visit links sent to you by people you haven’t talked to for very long. Scammers will pose as a member and try to get their target to click on links, usually leading to porn or webcam sites, and sometimes can even lead to malicious sites that download malware onto your computer.
- If someone requests a webcam chat, be especially careful about your behavior. The criminal can record the webcam session and they can use it to blackmail you. If the conversation you’re having starts to take an uncomfortable turn, it’s okay to disconnect the chat.
- Scammers create fake profiles that are run by programs called bots. Their objective is to get you to click on a link that will lead to either porn, malware or scam you out of credit card information. It’s actually quite easy to spot a bot, as they have a set of predetermined “canned” responses. If you notice that the conversation you’re having seems a bit off, or the person isn’t answering your questions directly, chances are it’s a bot.
Catfishing is a different kind of scam in and of itself. Catfishing is when a user assumes the identity of someone else. This tactic is used by online predators to try to trick people into an online romantic relationship. Catfishers will always make up excuses as to why they can’t meet you, talk on the phone or meet up on webcam. If the user’s profile seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do a reverse online image search of their photos, and if they appear in other places, under other names, you may have caught yourself a catfish.
We are now in the age of the Internet where we can order up anything from toothpaste to significant others online. As with all areas of the cyber landscape there are scammers and hackers abound, but if you keep your wits about you and follow the advice in this article, you can safely add love to your shopping cart.