True love or fraud? Here’s how you’ll know.

True love or fraud? Here’s how you’ll know.

In search of true love this Valentine’s Day, some people may just find themselves becoming the victim of a scam. Recent data shows that at least 18,000 domains that feature words like “love” or “valentine” were created in January alone. What’s concerning about this is the fact that 1 out of every 8 of these newly-created domains were made to defraud or scam users (source: Checkpoint). This statistic highlights the threats associated with a seemingly harmless celebration such as Valentine’s Day.

Naturally, people seek love, connection, and intimacy. This innate human need is celebrated during Valentine’s Day. Sadly, hackers take advantage of these emotions to maximize their profit. They employ various techniques such as sextortion, catfishing, and creating fake dating websites or apps.

  • Sextortion – This online threat preys on people’s desire for connection. This starts through the exchange of chats between the victim and the “online lover” that goes on for weeks or even months. Once trust has been established between the two, the “online lover” then tricks the unsuspecting victim into providing sexually explicit videos or photos. The victim is later blackmailed with the threat of these materials getting exposed.
  • Catfishing – Using generative AI, hackers create fake online personas that are conventionally more attractive than the real individuals behind the fake identities. They use this fake persona to gain trust and manipulate the emotions of people who are in search of love online. Once a catfish gains the trust of its unsuspecting victim, it starts to lure the latter into sending money, steals the latter’s identity, or asks for nude photos that will then be further used for blackmail.
  • Fake Dating Apps/Websites – Hackers create fake dating apps to collect users’ personal information such as their contact details and banking information. This further leads to the victim’s money or identity getting stolen. When hackers steal their victim’s identity, they can use the information to open fake credit card accounts or apply for loans.

So, how do you know if the person you’re chatting with online is a real person or a fraud? Here are some tips:

  1. Do they sound weird? – If the person you’re chatting with never commits typos, has impeccable grammar, or uses sentences or words that you’re not likely going to use in a casual conversation, there’s a high chance that you’re speaking with a fake online persona. Consider using video calls to verify their identity.
  2. Do they look too perfect? – If all the hairs and muscles in their body are in the right places, that photo is either created by AI or it’s someone else’s modeling photo. Use online tools to conduct a reverse image search on the person's pictures to verify their identity by looking at other places on the internet. Also, check for consistency in the appearance of the person across different photos. Inconsistencies may suggest a fake profile.
  3. You just started chatting last week, and the person’s already in love? Be cautious if the relationship progresses too quickly, especially if the person expresses strong feelings or intentions early on. Scammers often use emotional manipulation to expedite the process.
  4. Are their stories too good to be true? Be wary of individuals who present stories or qualities that seem too perfect or too good to be true. Scammers often create idealized personas to lure in their targets.
  5. Are their stories inconsistent? Pay attention to inconsistencies in the information provided. If the person contradicts themselves or provides conflicting details about their life, it may indicate a fabricated story. It’s also possible that you’re chatting with two or three individuals behind a fake online persona.
  6. Are they asking for money? This is the biggest red flag that you’re indeed being scammed. Online scammers normally play on your emotions and empathy in an attempt to directly or indirectly ask for money. Be cautious if the person starts asking for money or financial assistance.
  7. Have you ever seen them in person? A person who is genuinely interested in you should not have any problem with regular video calls or even meeting you in person. If the person consistently avoids video calls or in-person meetings and provides excuses for not connecting face-to-face, it is a major red flag.

Remember that these signs are not definitive proof of a fake persona, but they serve as warning signals. Exercise caution, trust your instincts, and take the time to verify information when building connections online. If something feels off or raises concerns, consider taking a step back and reassessing the situation before proceeding further.

Additionally, communicating with friends or seeking advice from trusted individuals can provide valuable perspectives and help you make informed decisions.