Let Someone Steal Your Heart, Not Your Identity: A BBB Warning about Online Dating Scams

February 12, 2013

Kitchener/Waterloo, ON (BBB) - February 12, 2013: Last week, a statistic was released by Amazon.ca which found Waterloo to be Ontario’s most romantic city, and the third most romantic city in Canada. The list was compiled by comparing the sales data of romance novels, relationship books, and romantic films and music over the past year. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, these statistics serve as a reminder that, as human beings, we want various forms of love and romance to be present in our lives – some more so than others. The social pressure to find great love tends to be heightened around February 14th, when society necessitates that our active participation in a Hallmark holiday somehow reflects our loveliness. It is on account of this unwavering collective politick that many people are left vulnerable to unscrupulous Valentine’s Day scams.

We live in the age of digital media, and online dating has proved to be a viable way to meet new and lasting partners. One in every five relationships now begins online. Considering that online dating has such a significant success rate, it is no wonder the online dating industry profits $4.4 billion dollars per year. Unfortunately, this type of big business activity also creates an opportunity for cybercriminals to prey on unsuspecting site users. In fact, online dating scams cost victims more than $50 million every year. This Valentine’s Day, the BBB would like to offer the following warnings about online dating sites:

Beware of Fake Profiles and Catfishing. It is easy to be misled when participating in online dating programs. According to Cybercrime solution company ThreatMatrix, one in every ten online profiles are fake. “Catfishing” is latest term being used to describe the creation of fake online accounts and profiles to steal identity information, financial details, or money from other users. It is a prominent activity across online dating sites, as scammers try to bank on lonely and loveless people seeking understanding and companionship. The “catfisher” will feign a personal online connection with another user in order to build their trust. Then they will create an excuse for the trustee to send them money. These excuses can include: a family emergency, a medical scare, or claims that the “catfisher” wants to plan a trip to visit their new love.

Online Dating Websites Can Be Enticing to Hackers. Free online dating sites offer less monitoring and protection for subscribers, which means that users are susceptible to having their personal profile information and photos stolen. Unfortunately, secure dating sites can fall victim to nefarious hackers as well. Last year, 1.5 million eHarmony passwords were accessed, stolen, and posted to an online hacking forum. Many users had their personal information and identities violated as a result.

Mobile Dating Apps Can Be Dangerous. Mobile dating has grown increasingly more efficient and personalized, making it a popular alternative to online dating; however, mobile dating can be incredibly dangerous. In January 2013, OkCupid launched a new Blind Date Application (app) for smartphone users to try their hand at mobile dating. Shortly after the app was released, it was found to have a privacy flaw which publicly exposed the e-mail addresses and personal information of thousands of users. In addition, most smartphone applications show the geo-locations of their users. This allows cyber criminals to track the location of specific users and see whether or not they are at home, leaving many vulnerable to home invasion.

Beware of Online Extortion Scams. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently issued a warning about the increasing prominence of online extortion scams. Online extortion occurs when cybercriminals pose as potential companions on various social networking sites, collecting explicit messages and personal information from their correspondents. They will then publicize (or threaten to publicize) the information they have received, and charge their victim money to remove the data from the World Wide Web.

When it comes to social networking, what we see is not always what we get. Avoid falling victim to online dating scams this Valentine’s Day by trying not to fancy someone who rushes to develop a personal relationship online, claiming instant feelings of love. Scammers use emotional ties to increase their chances of success. If your “match” asks for money to cover travel expenses or has a sudden emergency requiring an extensive amount of money, there is a high probability that it is a scam.

Also be weary of users who may rush to leave the website you initially met on. If someone is pressuring you to continue a conversation elsewhere – such as phone, text, personal e-mail, or in person – they may be trying to collect your personal information for misuse. Do some background checking on potential matches. If you choose to meet in person, consider meeting in a public place or bring a friend.

Review the policies – such as the privacy policy and cancellation policy – of any website you are considering subscribing to, and do so before offering them your credit card information for membership. Investigate the company running the site, just as you would any other business you are thinking about entering into a contractual relationship with. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships without the user’s consent, unless they receive written or verbal instructions to do otherwise. In addition, users should be skeptical of the advertising claims made by various dating sites, especially if they advertise their exclusivity or state they are for “serious users only”.

Be reminded that sharing personal information with anyone can be dangerous. Always do your homework and trust your instincts when it comes to online dating and social media. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is; but do not let this be a deterrent from actively participating in Valentine’s Day traditions. Although it is important to share love every day, the rich history of Saint Valentine’s Day can be an enticing incentive to celebrate love and courtship. Keep an open heart, but exercise caution if you are thinking about opening your wallet.