Valentine’s Day romance scams: Don’t fall for them – CNET

Valentine’s Day romance scams: Don’t fall for them – CNET


That lady looking for love may not be who she says she is.

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Think before you click. The beautiful blonde in a faraway country who thinks you’re cute may be looking for more than just love.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, security experts warn that online scammers are looking to use the holiday to take advantage of lonely people. It isn’t hearts they want to steal, it’s bank account balances. 

Online romance scams are nothing new. Two decades ago, a virus bearing the name ‘ILOVEYOU” infected millions of computers by prompting romantics, lonely hearts and the curious to click on an email attachment made to look like a love letter.

“They wanted to know who loved them,” said Jon Clay, vice president of threat intelligence for the antivirus company Trend Micro. “Humans want to be loved and they want to have admirers. So, unfortunately, it’s a scam that’s used a lot.”

You may think you’re invulnerable to a scam. After all, many of them follow a similar and seemingly laughable pattern. A con artist claiming to be overseas eventually asks a victim for money to travel so that they can meet. Or maybe to deal with an emergency. You’d never fall for that, right? 

Maybe, but the Federal Trade Commission reports that last year, soft-hearted people parted with a record $547 million as the result of romance scams. The total losses represented a nearly 80% increase from a year earlier and were likely driven by people seeking connections during the pandemic. Many victims were taken for thousands of dollars, with a median loss reported to the FTC of $2,400.

Cryptocurrency has become a big part of romance scams, according to the FTC. Crypto losses totaled $139 million last year, with a median loss of nearly $10,000. 

Many romance scams get their start as phishing emails sent out by the millions. But sometimes scammers reach out through social media, dating apps and texts, says Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research and reporting at the cybersecurity company Bitdefender.


An example of a romance scam email spotted by Bitdefender.


According to Bitdefender research, Valentine’s Day-related spam increased sevenfold in the first week of February, with more than half those emails heading to targets in the US. Subject lines that’ve been spotted include “ukrainian girls are seeking for true love” and “show your love for melania.”

Last-minute shoppers need to be on their guard, too. Bitdefender spotted a big spike in scam emails related to Valentine’s Day shopping, similar to those that pop up around other heavy shopping holidays, like Christmas. Scammers are usually looking to steal credit card information, or login credentials for email and social media accounts.

“People are getting desperate looking for the perfect gift,” Botezatu said. “They don’t have a present but remember they saw something in their inbox. And boom: They click on malicious links, get infected and get caught up in online fraud.”


This phishing email spotted by Bitdefender isn’t going to land you a great deal on actual fish. 


Popular shopping-related subject lines spotted by Bitdefender included “valentine s day is coming buy gifts for your wife or sleep on the ground is up to you,” as well as the less obvious “save 15 off your first seafood order this valentine’s day.”

Whether it’s an unsolicited email or an attempt to connect through a legitimate dating app, people need to make decisions with their “minds and Spidey senses,” not their hearts, Botezatu says.

“It’s better to be cautious rather than end up without your life savings.”

Tips for avoiding Valentine’s Day scams

Be skeptical of anyone who reaches out to you through an unsolicited email, text or phone call. This is also true for social media, even if it’s someone who seems local because they’re a member of your neighborhood Facebook group. Though the person may seem more “real” and legitimate, there’s a good chance he or she isn’t. And if someone claims to be overseas, like a soldier or a woman looking to leave Russia, consider it a big red flag.

Never give money to people you’ve only met online. If someone you’ve never met in person asks for money to travel to the US and see you, to pay for medical care or to help deal with a sudden tragedy, you should regard it as a scam. The same goes for the keys to your cryptocurrency wallets and most personal information, like your Social Security number.

Be wary of people you meet through dating apps. Keep the personal information you post on them to a minimum. Never give your home address and don’t use a profile photo you use elsewhere, Botezatu said. Cybercriminals or stalkers could use it to do a reverse search and find your other social media profiles, which could give them more information than you want to disclose about where you work or live. On the flip side, do your homework. People who use dating apps are probably tech savvy enough to have a social media presence. Check it out.

Take a wingman (or woman). When meeting someone in person for the first time, pick a public place and tell a friend or family member where you’re going. Better yet, take a friend along. Never consent to a first date at the other person’s home.

Deals that seem too good to be true probably are. Did you procrastinate again this year? Delete those emails offering great last-minute deals on candy and flowers. Instead, go straight to the retailer’s website. Or just pop down to your local florist or candy shop.

Good cybersecurity will keep you safe. As always, set good passwords, use two-factor authentication and make sure your antivirus software, operating systems and apps are all up to date. These basic practices will go a long way toward protecting you if you click on or download something you shouldn’t.

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