Dating scams on the rise

Dating scams are a common spam email problem.  Spam relating to sex or dating currently accounts for approximately 4 per cent of global spam. 

In a typical scam, a recipient (male or female) would receive an email from a stranger and the email might say something along the lines of: “I found your information on a website. I think you are my true love…write back to me soon”. 

If the recipient replies to the email, the scammer would begin to write to them with stories about their family, their background and how much they love the recipient; any number of subjects are discussed, and flattering/suggestive comments are made, until at some point the attacker feels that the potential victim has been socially engineered to the point that they trust the attacker.

At that point, the victim is usually asked by the attacker to send money to them for a supposed flight to visit the victim, or money for an ill family member’s treatment.  It’s all complete fabrication on behalf of the attacker, but much like a traditional 419-style advance fee fraud, it’s all about the attacker building up the victim’s trust and using that trust to get the victim’s money.  

However, unlike a 419 scam, these are much more personal, and could end not only in financial loss, but in extreme cases a bad case of a broken heart.  Will the recipient’s “true love” visit them or ever return the money “lent”?  Never! The victim never meets anyone, and no money is ever returned.  However, the attacker might continue asking for more and more money, as long as the unfortunate victim keeps paying.  It’s a popular form of attack for scammers who rely on recipients who may be lonely and vulnerable to an attack disguised as an email that offers flattery and attention.

Dating scams, much like other forms of spam, vary greatly in their origin and style.  Sometimes dating scams include a picture of “the sender”, and of course usually the picture shows someone young and attractive.  Whether or not the scammers are of that standard is uncertain, or even of the same sex (!) but Symantec Hosted Services seriously doubt it.  They will be aiming to maximize the chances of a response and so include a nice picture.  

It might sound ridiculous to many that someone can be cheated by such a suspicious email from a complete stranger, but it happens all over the world every day.  It is possible to protect yourself from this type of scam by taking just a few moments to consider why the sender is emailing you.  Does it seem too good to be true?  Don’t reply to ‘suggestive’ emails from strangers, even if the person in the picture is your type!  The actual sender of the email is quite the opposite of the pretty innocent-looking girl smiling in the picture.  Of course, at the very least these emails are annoying and time-wasting for those who are aware that they are scam.  

A major step to avoid dating scams altogether is to have decent anti-spam protection, meaning that you would never encounter the scam in the first place.

Yuriko Kako-Batt is a Malware Analyst at  Symantec Hosted Services

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