Following the announcement by United Stares authorities of charges against 80 people, most of them Nigerians, in a wide-ranging fraud and money laundering operation that netted millions of dollars from victims of Internet scam, Mercury, a South African online newspaper, has come up with useful tips to avoid falling victim to online scams.

Mecury reports that dating and romance scams are fast-growing areas of online fraud and there are a huge number of fake profiles on dating sites.

Full list of tips:

If you’re suspicious, Google the message text he/she sends to you - unlike spam, dating scams require a fair amount of work from the criminals – so they tend to cut corners. Often, the ‘romantic’ message you receive has been sent to dozens of other people. Put quotes around it and Google it, if it brings up results from former victims, you should start to worry. Ask advice from a site administrator, or a friend.

Don’t be ashamed to ‘play detective’ – millions of people use dating sites but they do carry risks that normal dating don’t. You don’t know whether the person you are speaking to is real, where they’re from, or someone different.

In the old days, you would often meet people via friends of friends but you don’t have this reassurance online. So, play detective. If they won’t tell you where they work, worry.

Likewise, if they keep asking questions about you but never answer any about themselves, worry. Search for them on LinkedIn or just via Google – it’s almost impossible not to leave traces online these days. If someone has not, they probably aren’t real.

If their photos are really glossy, be afraid – 0ddly, one of the giveaways that the messenger may not be, who they seem to be is that they look too good – as in, the photographs are professional. Few normal people would make this much effort but for a cybercriminal, the easiest way to create a fake profile is to use glamorous pictures from the web shot by professional photographers.

Don’t hand over information bit by bit – dating sites are a huge growth area for cybercrime and scams vary from simple cons where people are asked for money for visas to classic phishing. The problem is that handing over information is a normal part of romance but perfect for identity thieves. Until you have verified that the person is genuine, do not give out your address, ever, and if possible, limit other details such as workplaces and contact details.

Don’t share ‘racy’ photos with people you have not met. One variation of today’s dating scams is a simple one – blackmail. Do not hand over pictures you would be embarrassed to publish online, otherwise you’re at risk from blackmailers. Even racy messages can be a tool for criminals, particularly if you’re attached.  Keep things clean until you know your ‘romance’ is real. Allowing someone to see you via webcam or to for instance undress on webcam is particularly risky.

If your messenger sends you a photo, which you need to click on, worry – a Nigerian ‘scam factory’ exposed by Brian Krebs used various methods to defraud wannabe lovers but one was to promise an image but instead send a file containing a banking malware. Keep antivirus software running and be wary of profiles without images in the first place. If they have an image, ask them to add it to their profile.

Don’t be persuaded to switch to another social network, email or IM – millions of people use dating sites and the ‘big’ sites are facing epidemic levels of fake profiles, phishing and other scams, so cybercriminals will often persuade victims to switch to another site either a social site or simply email. This way, they can continue the fraud in private.

If you think, “it’s all happening so fast”, it’s time to worry – dating scams are one of the few areas of cybercrime where gangs play a ‘long game’ – sometimes stringing victims along for weeks or months. But most are impatient to be paid, so any online ‘lover’, who declares undying love in the space of a few emails should be regarded with extreme suspicion.

Do not send money, ever – the ‘red flag’ moment comes when your ‘lover’ asks for money. Do not send it – whether it’s for flights or for life-saving surgery, even if the story is so tragic you feel that you must help.

If the subject of money comes up early in the relationship, be wary. If someone outright asks for a bank transfer, you may well be dealing with a criminal. Speak to site administrator if possible.       

 

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