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Don’t be fooled on Valentine’s Day – how to spot and avoid romance scams

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Safe online dating and how to spot cat phish and romance scams

Dating apps are great; even my dad met his partner online and I have a lot of friends who’ve found their current spouse online says Anna Collard, MD at KnowBe4 Africa.

Unfortunately, dating apps don’t only attract lonely hearts, but scammers too. They are there to steal your money or manipulate you into doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

Sometimes this could even be a cybercriminal trying to earn your trust in order to gain access to your company’s network. Especially if you have certain privileges in your job, such as IT administrator, HR or finance, you could be targeted by these so-called social engineers or people hackers.

In most cases, the victim has been contacted by a younger, beautiful online-only personality and is convinced of the person’s sudden, passionate requited love, even when asked for money. Many victims of cat phishing lose substantial sums of money, sometimes their entire lifesavings.

Apart from the obvious rules, such as only meeting in public places, be aware of how to spot cat phishing and romance scams.

How to spot a romance scam:

  1. The scammer is model beautiful: If every picture looks like it came from a fashion magazine, it probably has. If they have only one profile pic — swipe left.
  2. The victim has never met them in person: The key to most romance scams is that the victim and the date have never met in person, or if they did, they didn’t look anything like the beautiful person in the photograph. If voice changes are challenged, usually the scammer comes up with a scenario like they have a cold.
  3. The online person is from a foreign country: The scammer is almost always from or traveling in a foreign country. The distance ensures that it is not easy or cheap for the victim and scammer to meet in person.
  4. Initial contact comes from the scammer: Not only are the “dates” super beautiful, but they make most of the initial overtures. They contacted the victim first. They respond very quickly and aggressively. They don’t appear in the slightest to be shy or wary. Super beautiful people don’t grow up having to be super forward on the dating scene. If anything, they are more wary and selective.
  5. The scammer falls in love too fast: How long should it be before the other person says “I love you” on a dating site? It’s probably longer than a few days or emails.
  6. The scammer wants to move to personal email quickly: Why do they do this? Because the scammer is usually trying to pull off hundreds to thousands of dating scams at once and their current fake personae profile will likely be removed after enough complaints.
  7. Email address doesn’t match the name: When their email address doesn’t come close to matching their claimed name. If their claimed name is Katrina Korkova, but their email address is Run away.
  8. They claim to be famous or have a doctorate: Did you know according to data from the dating site, 37% of scammers claim to have a doctorate?
  9. Is it a bot? If their messaging responses don’t make sense, it might be a bot replying to you. Spelling and grammar are also a sign of a scam — if they claim to have a PhD, but can’t spell properly, it is a huge red flag.
  10. Money, money, money: They need money to put off some horrible event or to visit you to share their incredible love. They need money for a sick relative. They need money for a visa. They need money for travel plans.

How to prove they’re a scammer

  1. Ask for an updated photo: If they protest, tell them that your best friend/parent/child doesn’t believe that they are real and that you want proof just to shut them up.
  2. Do image and text searches: The victim always has one or more photos of the potential scammer. Using Bing (choose search by image by clicking on the camera icon under the image search subsection) or Google, do an image search using a specific photo. Put in any keywords to narrow down the search.
  3. Confront the victim with the evidence: If you show them enough evidence that their one and only true love isn’t real love, they usually come back to reality.

Author: Anna Collard, MD at KnowBe4 Africa