A Nigerian fraud ring dubbed Scarlet Widow has been found creating fake profiles on popular dating sites to scam innocent people out of large amounts of money after making them fall in love with the fake profiles!
Research by security firm Agari has revealed that the fraud ring is adept at creating fake profiles on highly popular dating websites such as March, eHarmony, and OKCupid as well as websites such as Dating4Disabled.com, FarmersDatingSite.com, and DivorcedPeopleMeet.com that are frequently visited by relationship-seekers.
Once such fake profiles are created, they are used by the fraudsters to engage with people from the opposite gender on these websites and gain their trust over a period of time, expressing love for the targeted people, talking about creating the right relationship, faith in God, and finding a person that "understands and respects" the fake profiles.
Hackers build love & trust before conning people
"These questions I sit and think up, so I could have an idea of your inner being, we need time to make out time to chat or text with one another and get to know much more about each other, we have to be certain of ourselves, ensuring this relationship is what we want in our lives and ready for.
"Everything in life happens for a reason, my being lonely for a very long time is for a reason, and it has led me straight to eharmony. I hope you know friendship is not about finding the right person, but creating a right relationship, it's not about how much love you have in the beginning but how much love you build till the end; I'm in search of that person that understands and respects me," read an email sent from a fake eHarmony profile.
Once the fraudsters at Scarlet Widow succeed in building trust with a targeted person, they send an email asking for money for reasons that appear to be quite genuine at first. Even though a majority of such tactics fail, the group succeeded in conning an American man out of $50,000 after trapping him in a long-lasting conversation.
According to Agari, the group has succeeded in conning a lot of people by using this tactic and will continue to target more people on dating websites and apps for money. A very successful profile used by the group is that of “Laura Cahill,” a supposed Texan model working in Paris who, after falling in love with targeted people, asks for money to relocate to the target's country.
"As Scarlet Widow became more advanced in their tactics, they eventually switched from romance scams to business email compromise—a move that resulted in additional money at a fraction of the time invested in the con," said Agari in a blog post.
Scammers take advantage of increased online traffic on Valentine's Day
Last year, research by Webroot revealed that visits to dating websites increase by 53 percent in the month of February, relative to the three months prior and there is also a 342 percent increase in visits to greeting card domains on Valentine’s Day relative to Christmas Day.
Cybercriminals take advantage of this massive spike in dating interest to take advantage of victims, and this was made clear by an astounding 220 percent increase in malicious URLs during the week.
Tyler Moffitt, senior threat research analyst at Webroot said that in order to protect their money and privacy from cyber criminals, people should be extra vigilant about the websites visited, the URLs followed and the applications and mobile apps used.
At the same time, they should ensure never to transmit financial information and should use common sense and not share personal information with people they do not know and are interacting with for the first time on dating apps.