Almost every aspect of our society has been vastly transformed by the inescapable spread of technology, and love is no exception. With Valentine’s Day this week, we’ve all got love on the brain, and here at FixMeStick we want to make sure you’re safe and secure online.
Did you know that around 15% of US adults have used online dating sites or apps? And 29% of Americans know someone who has met a spouse or long-term partner online. Online dating experiences are especially common with people aged 55-64. In fact, the percentage of users in this age group has doubled since 2013.
Romance scams continue to be on the rise.
With so many people looking for love online, the lure for cybercriminals to exploit this community has risen substantially. Most people believe they wouldn’t be gullible enough to fall for romance scams, but as the old saying goes, ‘love is blind’. In 2016 the FBI received almost 15,000 reports of romance scams, totaling roughly $230 million in losses. The worst part is that romance scams are vastly under-reported, as most victims are too embarrassed to come forward.
However, don’t be discouraged from searching for ‘The One’ online. Instead, look for the tell-tale signs that your online pal isn’t being upfront with you. By educating yourself and those around you about the tactics of online fraudsters, you’ll be protecting your financial and personal security, but most of all, you’ll be protecting your heart.
The most prevalent dating scam is what’s called a ‘catfish’. These are people who pretend to be someone they’re not to pursue deceptive online romances.
3 Warning Signs Your Online Sweetie Could Be a Catfish
1. Their profile seems fake
Romance scammers will typically create fake dating profiles by using stock photos or actual stolen photos as their profile picture. Often they claim to be military personnel, airline workers, or medical professionals, as these are professions that are widely considered trustworthy.
If you’re suspicious, you can use Google image search to see if their photos appear elsewhere. There are also many Facebook groups dedicated to raising awareness of scam profiles. If you’re not sure you trust your flirty new friend, always do some research and get a second opinion.
2. Rapid emotional investment
Fraudsters tend to shower victims with love and affection right off the bat, messaging constantly throughout the day. This type of behavior has been called ‘love bombing’. The goal is to quickly establish a strong bond so the victim is easily swayed into sharing personal and financial information. One romance scam victim described the feeling as similar to being brainwashed.
Dating sites often monitor their forums for suspicious profiles and activity. So if you meet someone and they ask to chat on a more private channel, they may be doing so to avoid being exposed. If your romantic interest asks you to take the conversation elsewhere, it’s safest to decline.
3. They ask for money
If your romantic interest starts asking for money, or for your financial details, stop and think. The requests may start out seeming innocent; what could be harmful about a few dollars here and there? But it can quickly ramp up, and before you know it you could be giving out large sums of money under the pretense that they will pay you back. The urgency of their demands may become more and more frequent, and could even become threatening.
No matter how convincing they seem on their promises to return the funds, you’re likely never to see that money again. So never send money or banking details to anyone you don’t know well. This may seem like a no-brainer, but scammers are increasingly skilled at charming their victims into trusting them with their financial information.
6 Ways to Protect Your Heart While Looking for Love Online (and from Scammers in General)
1. Protect your location
- Turn off location services on your smartphone in settings
- Disable geotagging in your internet browser’s settings on your computer
- Use a VPN to encrypt your searches and hide your IP address
2. Keep your personal information to yourself
- Avoid using your full name, giving away your birthday, age, and location
- Some things are stored in your browser, so be sure to check your digital footprint and reset your browsers regularly
- Be careful setting up real-life meeting points with anyone you meet online. Always meet in public and tell someone you trust about the potential encounter
3. Use a trusted antivirus with a firewall feature
- McAfee Total Protection shields your computer from threats in real time when you’re online
- The firewall feature acts as a safe-search tool in case of typos or other mistakes that can get you into trouble
4. Clean your computer regularly
- Run regular FixMeStick scans to make sure your computer is free from viruses
- Like your car, your computer needs regular maintenance. Try System Mechanic to optimize the speed of your PC – we’ve got special savings for all you sweethearts out there
5. Change your passwords
- Best practice is to change your passwords regularly
- Never share your passwords with someone you meet online
- Be careful not to give hints that could help them guess your passwords either
6. Report scammers
- Don’t be embarrassed to speak up, staying silent only makes things worse and encourages scammers to think they can get away with it
- First, report it on whatever platform you met them on
- You can also report the incident to your local police and fraud centers in your country:
- US: FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
- Canada: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
- UK: Action Fraud
- Australia: ACCC Scamwatch
From all of us here at FixMeStick, have a sweet and safe Valentine’s day!