Watch Out for Romance Scams this Valentine’s Day

Every year, Valentine’s Day is spoiled for countless people who fall victim to scams.

Whether it’s bogus websites selling presents, con artists impersonating love interests or our romantic optimism when receiving messages from mysterious senders, there are a host of threats to be wary of.

In this blog, we take a look at a couple of the most common Valentine’s Day scams and provide top tips for staying safe.

Bogus discount jewellery offers

Phishing is the most common type of online scam, so it’s no surprise that it remains a major threat this time of year. Check Point found more than 400 new phishing domains in the week running up to Valentine’s Day last year, a 29% increase on 2020.

Many of these messages take advantage of people looking for affordable presents for their partner. The example Check Point used was a phishing campaign imitating the jewellery retailer Pandora.

Scammers have used this campaign for the past two years, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see it – or a variation of it – again in 2022.

The message appeared to come from “Pandora Outlet” with the subject line “Valentine’s Day Give The Gift They Really Want…”. The body of the email was a mock-up of Pandora’s website, with items available at a massive discount:

For example, the ‘Married Couple Dangle Charm’ is supposedly reduced from $195 (about €170) to $12.55 (€11.00).

This 93% discount should be an obvious sign that something is amiss, but the reality is more complex. Scam emails are designed to lure people and encourage them to follow a link, whether out of curiosity or simply because they don’t consider the possibility that they’re being tricked.

For the same reason, people might not necessarily note the poor grammar that’s indicative of a message written by a non-native English speaker rather than copy produced by the company.

The advert says: “Show off your unique traits and one-of-a-kind personality and style a look true to you by stacking, layering and combining pieces to enhance every outfit.”

Anyone who read that sentence might notice that it was written clumsily, and presumably is not a genuine message from Pandora. Likewise, their suspicions should be aroused if they saw the email was sent from an address not linked to Pandora.

However, scammers know that people rarely look at the details within emails, so their goal is to create something that looks believable enough at first glance to capture readers’ attention and persuade them to click.

Online dating scams

For those who don’t have a significant other to buy a present for this Valentine’s Day, there are still threats in the form of online dating.

Fraudsters often create false profiles on dating sites with the intention of attracting people and getting them to hand over personal information, including financial details.

The key to this scam is creating a pretence where the scammer can continue to communicate with the victim and gain their trust without arranging a face-to-face meeting, where their true identity would be revealed.

A common pretext is for the scammer to claim they are in the military. They will use a picture of a soldier and say that they are abroad and are therefore unable to meet in person.

This buys them time to develop an emotional connection with the victim. The scammer will tease returning home, only to fake an issue that jeopardises that.

For example, they might say that they don’t have money to travel or that there is an issue with their military medical coverage. This is all designed to encourage the victim to give them money to resolve the issue.

Whereas many scams would typically end there, with the scammer getting their payout and ceasing correspondence, military romance scams tend to be more involved. The effort required to extract the money provides both the need and opportunity to continue making requests.

In some cases, the scammers work with accomplices who pose as doctors or lawyers, each of whom presents an obstacle for the ‘soldier’ to return home and who must be paid.

Victims can be especially vulnerable around Valentine’s Day. A scammer may have spent months suggesting that they will be together on the day, with detailed plans arranged.

When the victim learns that those plans may not happen, they are more likely to act irrationally and succumb to the scammer’s requests.

There’s no way to mitigate the hurt feelings associated with these scams, but you can protect yourself from financial damage by remaining cautious when interacting with strangers online.

If they refuse to meet you, it’s not necessary a sign that they are a scammer, but if they start asking for money, alarm bells should ring.

Plenty more phish in the sea

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time you need to be aware of scams. Phishing emails are one of the biggest online threats that we face at work and at home.

Cisco’s 2021 Cybersecurity threat trends report found that 87% of organisations had at least one employee fall for a phishing email last year. Meanwhile, phishing accounted for approximately 90% of all data breaches.

Phishing Staff Awareness Course

You can help educate your staff with IT Governance’s Phishing Staff Awareness Training Programme.

This online course uses real-world examples like the ones we’ve discussed here to explain how phishing attacks work, the tactics that cyber criminals use and how you can detect malicious emails.

The content is updated quarterly to include recent examples of successful attacks and the latest trends that criminals use.

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