STOP. THINK. CONNECT. be aware of possible online dating scams

Feb 4, 2011 10:07am

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

The Internet has opened many new ways to solve old problems. One of those is meeting the person of your dreams through an online dating service. Of course, this time of year as Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, some people may step up their the activities to find their soul mate.

Our friends at McAfee ( McAfee is an NCSA Board member) have published some great tips and advice about avoiding scams and threats in the online world.

Like many scams, online dating scams often involve building trust. McAfee reports that in a typical scam, the cybercrook will create a fake online dating profile, complete with attractive photos. Then, they reach out one-on-one via email, chat, text or phone, trying to establish a relationship and thereby gain trust.

Once trust is established, they may ask for money for a plane ticket to visit, or give you a sob story. For instance, the scammer may say that they have a life threatening illness, or need money to pay rent. A couple of the more popular scam efforts include the: 

  • Military Ploy—A cyber crook pretends to be a soldier and strikes up a relationship with a female online dater. Once a relationship is established—perhaps over weeks or months—the scammer asks the victim to apply for military leave so he can visit, and fill out official-looking military paperwork, for a fee, which he promises will be refunded. Some scammers even ask for money for medical supplies, or claim they need help to take care of a child.
  • Mail Order Bride Scams—Traditional mail order bride services, where men pay to meet a foreign bride, have gone digital. New online sites offer users access to potential mates from around the world, for a monthly membership fee. The trouble is these sites provide fertile ground for scammers, who setup profiles and begin corresponding with users in the hopes of extracting money. The “bride” may say she needs money for tickets or a visa to come visit, and then never appears, or fakes a family emergency and asks the victim for monetary help.

It is not only people pretending to be someone they are not that you have to look at for. Social engineering scams and phishing scams are out there too.  They may try to collect personal information or download of malicious software also called malware by clicking on a link or opening an attachment. McAfee gives examples of some recent known such efforts, including: 

  • The Koobface worm targeted users by sending messages that appeared to be from other users, inviting them to look at photos and videos on a look-a-like site. When users tried to log in to the malicious site, it recorded their usernames and passwords and attempted to install a Trojan.
  • The “KamaSutra PowerPoint” threat arrives via spam (email), offering recipients a tantalizing PowerPoint show of sexual positions. The PowerPoint slide deck itself is safe (although it contains images you would likely not want your co-workers, family members or roommates to see on your screen), but once downloaded, it stealthily installs malware on your computer.
  • Valentine’s Day Spam & eCardsScammers know that the holidays are the perfect time to send out themed messages and eCards, knowing they will grab your attention. Spam messages with subject lines such as “The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift” may contain a link to a dangerous website that asks for personal information. And, a message that appears to be an eCard from a loved one could actually download malware on your machine when you click on the link, leaving you with an infection, rather than affection.

In the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign we have some tips advice to help this Valentine’s Day including: 

Tip: Keep a Clean Machine.
•Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
•Automate software updates: Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option.

Tip: Protect Your Personal Information.
• Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.
•Unique account, unique password: Separate passwords for every account helps to thwart cybercriminals.
 •Own your online presence: When available, set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. It’s ok to limit who you share information with.

Tip: Connect with Care.
•When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.
•Get savvy about Wi-Fi hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your machine.

Tip: Be Web Wise.
 •Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
Tip: Be a Good Online Citizen.
•Safer for me more secure for all: What you do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.

Here’s some additional online dating advice from McAfee: 

  • When signing up for online dating, go with a well-known dating site and get referrals from friends on which sites they use.
  • Once signed up to a dating site, stay incognito for a while. That way, if you run into someone who’s dishonest or makes you uncomfortable, you stay safe.
  • Design your dating profile with care—think about the image you want to project and NEVER, under any circumstance, post personal information, such as your full name, address and phone number.
  • Vet potential dates by checking to see that their profile information matches other online information, such as their LinkedIn or Spokeo profile.
  • When meeting a date for the first time, make sure to meet in a public place and DO NOT give them your personal address. Trust your instincts—if there are red flags, you are not imagining things. End the date.
  • If a potential date asks you for a loan or any financial information, immediately report them to the dating site.