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ACCC warns about social media scams on Valentine's Day

The Australian competition watchdog has warned people to be careful about whom they "friend" on Valentine's Day as the figures show that dating and romance scammers will be stepping up activities on social media sites.

In a statement, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said there were more than 3700 reports to Scamwatch in 2017 from Australians who had lost a total of $20.5 million.

Among those who had lost money, women lost nearly twice as much as men and people aged 45 and over were most likely to be targeted, the ACCC said.

“Social media has overtaken online dating sites as the most common way for dating and romance scammers to contact potential victims,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

“Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and while it’s a happy day for many, for some it can be quite lonely and isolating. If you’re going on social media, a dating site or app to find a potential Mr or Ms Right, it’s important to keep your guard up to a scammer’s advances.”

The ACCC offered the following tips:

  • "Scammers create believable profiles to present themselves as an almost too good to be true ‘catch’. Use a Google Image search to check if their profile picture is genuine.
  • "If the person you are interested in says they are overseas, or can’t meet you right now for any reason, be suspicious. Their excuse may sound reasonable but it is usually a lie.
  • "Be careful when people profess strong feelings early on. Scammers want you to fall in love with them so they can abuse your trust and feelings to get money out of you.
  • "Don’t ever give money to someone you have only met online. Scammers spin sympathetic tales about why they need money but don’t fall for it.
  • "Don’t share intimate photos or use webcams in an intimate setting. Scammers use these photos or webcam recordings to blackmail their victims."

In 2017, Australians lost $9.7 million to dating and romance scams through social media – an increase of about 30% compared to 2016.

Tyler Moffitt, senior threat research analyst at security firm Webroot, told iTWire that data from the company's Threat Intelligence Platform showed a 220% increase in malicious URLs in the week before Valentine's Day. In the week after 14 February, there was a 50% drop in such links.

Moffitt offered the following tips:

  • "Avoid using dating apps in public, unsecured areas.
  • "Make sure you’re using two-factor authentication while in public Wi-Fi hotspots to help ensure your online data is more secure. As soon as an account’s credentials have been compromised, it's very common to then use that account to try and scam others since the profile is (up to that point) legitimate and not suspicious. Another option when in public is to use a VPN (virtual private network).
  • "Use good judgement.
  • "Be extra vigilant about the websites visited, the URLs followed and the applications and mobile apps used.
  • "Just like in the public meet-up sites for trade and selling, always be sure never to transmit financial information. Always meet in a public area, let someone else know that you're going to make a transaction and arrange for your own transportation.
  • "Use common sense.
  • "Never give passwords to your other accounts to your dating app."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.