Millions of people are using online dating websites to find love these days, but the numbers are especially high around Valentine’s Day when people can feel especially lonely. Unfortunately, bad guys visit these sites as well and romance isn’t what they are looking for.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation warns that high numbers of cybercriminals are trolling social media sites, online dating services and chat rooms to prey on lonely and vulnerable people.
The cybercriminal will contact a person online and pretend to be interested in them -- sharing a profile, picture and some contact information. After chatting, sending some gifts and building a relationship, the criminal will start asking for money to help with financial hardships, or ask the person to cash checks or forward a package.
In addition to straight-up stealing the money, the criminals are also getting their victims to help them launder money and ship stolen merchandise.
Even worse, criminals are taking intimate conversations, pictures and even personal contact information shared on social media or dating websites and posting that information to a public website. The criminals then demand $99 to remove the website. Even if the victim pays, the criminals sometimes refuse to take down the website anyway.
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The FBI recommended anyone that thinks they’ve been victimized by an online dating scam to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FBI also provided tips to avoid becoming a victim this Valentine’s Day.
- The scammer asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
- The scammer makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas.
- The scammer sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine; professes instant feelings of love; presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal email or instant messaging.
The most common targets, according to the FBI, are women over 40 who are divorced, widowed or disabled, but the agency has worked cased from every age group and demographic.