Online dating scams flourish

Look out for online dating scams‚ the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) warned on Tuesday.

While online dating sites can be a great way for singles to find their significant other‚ it is also a way for cybercriminals to “seek out their victims”.

SABRIC said that an increased “prevalence of romance scams is worrying” and very difficult to curb given that the modus operandi “exploits the emotions of the victim” who believes that they are in a romantic relationship.

“Such communications are usually confidential and very personal and victims are often too embarrassed to publically admit to being manipulated and ultimately defrauded‚” the centre said in a statement.

CEO of SABRIC Kalyani Pillay said that even when banks were able to detect that a victim is about to make a payment under false pretences‚ “these victims often insist on proceeding with the transaction as they do not accept that they are being defrauded”.

 Online dating and romance scams have increased significantly in recent years.

 These crimes are considered low risk with high reward by the perpetrators and‚ because they do not intend meeting their victims‚ can be executed from anywhere on the globe.

 “They target victims‚ identified mostly through social media platforms‚ who appear to be affluent‚” Pillay said.

SABRIC said that a “typical” victim profile would be that of a middle aged or elderly widow‚ who may appear to have large amounts of money.

 “This information is easily gleaned off a victim’s Facebook or Instagram profile‚ if the security settings are not strictly applied.

“Sourcing information from online dating sites is also relatively easy because these victims usually share very freely in the hope of finding a romantic partner.

 “It is important to note that whilst many victims have been female‚ men have also been duped with romance or online dating scams‚” the banking watchdog added.

 An interesting story line aligned to the victims’ interests‚ along with appealing photographs are used to lure victims in.

 “Once a long distance relationship is established‚ requests for financial assistance follow.

 “Reasons given vary from assistance with the costs of a plane ticket to visit the victim‚ to emergency medical assistance.

 “Victims who are tricked into believing that they are communicating with a genuine friend‚ then render the assistance to their own detriment.

 “Funds paid are usually withdrawn immediately and once the victim realises what has transpired‚ there is usually no opportunity to recover funds‚” said SABRIC.

 Watch out for the following red flags to avoid being scammed:

- Unsolicited communications from strangers on Facebook or WhatsApp who want to get to know you better‚ are best ignored.

- Invitations to befriend you on Facebook or LinkedIn from strangers whose own profiles have very little information should be treated with utmost suspicion.

- Requests for financial assistance from people that you have recently met online should best not be entertained.

- Do not make your bank account details available to third parties that you have not met.

- Do not share details of your financial position with strangers.

- Set the privacy settings on your social media platforms at the strictest possible level to ensure that strangers surfing the internet‚ cannot access any of your personal details or posts.

- Look out for inconsistencies in communications. Syndicates often have a number of people manning their online dating sites so you could possibly be chatting to two or three different people.

- Be wary of people who keep promising to meet you and always cancel at the last minute. Don’t give such a person money‚ to come to visit you.

- Should you suspect that a scammer is targeting you‚ stop all communications immediately and report it to the online dating service or social media platform.

- If you have been the victim of a romance scam and were defrauded in the process‚ report the matter to the police.



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