Cape Town – As Valentine’s Day encroaches, lonely hearts should beware who they try to date online, says an expert.
“Those who partake in cyber-dating must always be mindful that the person behind the profile they are interested in may not be who they say they are,” said Candice Sutherland, Business Development consultant at Stalker Hutchison Admiral.
She said that international data shows a 60% increase for dating sites on Valentine’s and Christmas Days, leading to opportunities for cyber crooks to exploit vulnerable people.
“People tend to be more trusting of an online profile than they should be and a degree of scepticism is crucial to ensure safety. Computers and the internet allow predators to exploit online daters easily and anonymously - at the click of a button,” Sutherland argued.
Research from security firm Trend Micro in 2015 showed that cyber criminals are increasing efforts to bait victims with online relationships.
"Members of a sextortion crime ring in the Philippines created fake Facebook accounts, which presented them as attractive women to lure men into chatting with them. They then asked them to video-chat on Skype so they could engage in cyber sex, which would allow the cyber criminals to record the victims," Trend Micro said.
These videos were then used to blackmail victims into paying up to $1 000 to keep the videos private. If the victims refused to pay, the content would be uploaded to YouTube or sent to their friends and family.
Sutherland warned people looking for love to be aware of red flags. Suspicious activity includes avoiding meetings at public places, or wanting to meet in a hotel room.
“Should someone ever receive a request for money, financial or personal details or risqué pictures and texts, be on high alert even if there has been a build-up of friendship or intimacy over many months. These are professional con artists who groom their victims by preying on their emotions,” she added.
She said that cyber crooks will typically harass their victims by blackmail, defamation, extortion, spying, broadcasting of sexual material or obscene content on social media or dating sites where people share what kind of partner they want.
“These platforms enable scammers to use false or stolen identities and pretend to become their victim’s desired partner. They rewrite their own profile to match that of their victim’s so that they seem like the ideal match.”
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