Stop Falling for Dating Scams this Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is the holiday of love for couples. For most singles, it is an annual reminder of the need to find a significant other. That is why the holiday is an ideal time to discuss dating site scams that seek to entrap and extract money in a variety of ways from lonely singles willing to overlook the occasional red flag. Ahead of this Valentine’s Day, spoke to some fraud prevention companies about the scams sent online along with Cupid’s arrow and how to avoid getting hit.

“People are quick to think that the elderly or those who are less digitally savvy are the only targets, but that is simply not the case”, says Spokeo spokeswoman Vanessa Waite. “Staying aware and knowing that this is a possibility for anyone is the first step.”

Spokeo is an identity search site that receives 18 million unique visitors per month. The company estimates that 8%-15% of site users use the service to protect themselves from fraud and/or research their dates.

In a blog post on its website, Spokeo warns in particular about the potential to be misled by potential romantic partners online due a psychological phenomenon called “romantic projection.” This phenomenon leads people to project onto others the positive unclaimed aspects of themselves and create a dream relationship with a person who doesn’t actually exist. This frequently can happen in innocent encounters online, but it also is what helps fraudsters gain the trust of potential marks on dating sites.

No surprise then that fraud prevention vendor iovation found that online dating transactions, including everything from account profile creation and login to the exchange of information, have a higher chance of being fraudulent when compared to transactions in other industries. Fraudulent profiles are a growing problem for online dating sites in particular as fraudsters use them to either perpetrate romance scams or harvest personal details from targets to either take over their accounts or steal their identity.

“Of the top five most common fraud types recorded by our dating site customers, 63% are related to romance scams in which fraudsters are using these sites to mine for personal information to either extort funds or takeover an account of a victim,” says iovation CTO Scott Waddell.

The top five types of fraud that occur on online dating sites according to iovation are:

  1. Scams/solicitations—User takes advantage of the community to promote nonexistent services and products, or to solicit services from legitimate members
  2. Spam—Person is caught sending unsolicited bulk messages via emails, postings, and instant messages to promote other products, websites or companies
  3. Credit card fraud—Cybercriminal uses a fake or stolen credit card to create multiple or premium accounts to scam users
  4. Profile misrepresentation—Fraudster posts inaccurate identity information in a profile and/or uses bogus profile photos.
  5. Identity mining—Scammer makes any attempt to illegitimately acquire personal information from other users through means of phishing, keystroke logging, creating fake business websites, and other methods

Further, the volume of evidence collected by iovation for scams/solicitations, spam, identity mining/phishing and profile misrepresentation dramatically increased between 2016 and 2017. Scams/solicitations, in particular, more than tripled to 1,550,000 instances, while all categories saw sharp growth (see graph). This strongly suggests that not only are fraudsters heavily involved in dating sites but that online dating sites are getting better at identifying fake profiles using anti-fraud technology.

To foil fraudsters iovation operates a shared device intelligence network for Internet-enabled devices that helps businesses sort good customers from the bad. Customers in the online dating industry use iovation’s risk service to place reports of fraud and abuse against accounts and devices that are then shared across the iovation community. The iovation intelligence sharing community is comprised of over 4,000 fraud analysts representing a range of industries and has seen 4.7 billion devices and 42 million confirmed fraud reports recorded and shared across its community.

Love scams, however, are a year-round phenomenon not specific to Valentine Day’s singles trying to snag their beau or bae. iovation found that its data from 2016 did not show a significant increase in denied transactions among dating site subscribers. Data from 2017 is still being analyzed by iovation as of the time of this article.

“Romance and dating scams do not appear to be seasonal – unlike what we see with for instance with online credit card fraud during the Black Friday holiday weekend,” says Waddell. “The reason for this is likely because romance frauds often take weeks or months to execute successfully.”

Fraud trends aside, what can individuals do to avoid falling victim to the fraudsters that slip through the defenses on dating sites? Spokeo provides three pieces of useful advice:

  • Do your research early, especially before meeting in person or talking about anything too personal. Search the phone number, email address, name, or any details you have.
  • Request a phone call or a video chat as soon as you identify a relationship having potential. Make sure you search that number or username using an identity search service right away!
  • Be optimistically cautious about anyone who seems to be the perfect fit. If something seems too good to be true, it can’t hurt to look into it. It hurts a lot more not to.

Sites that can be used to search and verify contact information, location, social profiles, and the registered name of a phone number’s owner besides Spokeo include Instant Checkmate, Intelius, PIPL and WhitePages Premium. So don’t let fear prevent you from looking for romance this Valentine’s Day, just make sure the fraudsters don’t catch you falling a fool for love.

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Author: Ronen Shnidman

Ronen Shnidman is the Head of Content at the chargeback management solution provider Justt. He has years of experience covering fraud and eCommerce both as a marketer and as a journalist. He was also involved in the establishment of About Fraud.