A Valentine’s warning about heartbreak hackers

Emma McGowan 12 Feb 2024

Dive into the world of romance scams, where emotions are exploited, money is the ultimate prize, and scammers lurk behind the mask of love.

Ah, Valentine's Day—the time when love is in the air, and scam artists are ready to swoop in with their own version of a love story. Imagine this: you're swiping through a dating app, hoping to find the yin to your yang, only to find yourself entangled in a web of deception.  

Fear not, because this Valentine's Day, it's time to shine a light on the coldhearted world of romance scams and arm yourself with the knowledge to combat Cupid's mischievous impostors. 

In today's tech-savvy world, online dating has become a common way to meet potential partners. In fact, 30% of U.S. adults say they've used a dating site or app. However, according to the FTC, romance scams reached record highs in 2022, with reported losses exceeding $1.3 billion.  

Nearly 70,000 people reported being defrauded that year alone. This astronomical figure underscores the need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to protect ourselves from digital heartbreak. 

What does a romance scam really look like? 

And how do people fall for them? It’s easier than you think, especially when people encounter a partner with seemingly mutual interests. 

Jennifer, a 76-year-old resident of Georgia, met a man online who claimed to be a doctor working in Yemen. Then two kept up an online relationship for several months, flourishing into a connection that Jennifer called “a dream come true.”  

After some time, her online connection announced he was returning to the States and that they should buy a home together. He would pay the bulk of the cost, while Jennifer would contribute $70,000 plus fees. Sadly, it was all a scam, and Jennifer lost her money. 

The lesson you can learn? Stay vigilant about financial requests from anyone you meet on the internet, regardless of how long you’ve been connected. 

Jim, in Chicago, connected with a woman online after receiving an errant text message. The two connected, and she frequently sent him photos and videos of herself—even a sketch of the two together. Then, one day, she made a big confession: she was in love with him.  

With the promise of a relationship, the young woman convinced Jim to invest $60,000 with her for a stock investment. When Jim went to check the investment, he found his name and bank information had been used to open a cryptocurrency account, an account he couldn’t access. The scam? The woman online was actually an AI deepfake, used to lower his defenses and coax him into opening his wallet. 

The lesson you can learn? Don’t engage with unknown texters and callers, and never click on links they provide. 

An Athens man found a connection through a dating app. Over the course of 16 months, the two developed a relationship. And, the man sent nearly $60,000 over a cash transaction app. 

Unlike our other stories, the woman on the other end of the line was quite real! Without any AI, complicated ruses, or fake identities, she simply convinced him to send money voluntarily. Police report that she has no intention of paying back the money. 

The lesson you can learn? Be careful of anyone’s intentions asking for money, even if you’re certain they’re real. The best scams can sometimes be the simplest. 

Putting a rift in romance scams 

Last year, millions of people met online. Some formed everlasting relationships, some just for a night or two, and some left simply as cautionary tales. As your digital bouncer, Avast will help fend off cybercriminals, so your online love story doesn't turn into a digital tragedy. Along with using tools like Avast One that protects your devices, online privacy, identity, and more, there are a few other tips to keep in mind as you look for a love connection this season:  

  • Stay informed: Knowledge is power. Keep yourself updated on the latest romance scam tactics and techniques. 
  • Use reliable security software: Avast's antivirus software is your trusty shield against digital heartbreak. 
  • Employ two-factor authentication (2FA): Adding an extra layer of security is like saying "I love you" twice. Enable 2FA on your accounts to make it harder for cyber villains to break your heart...or into your data.  
  • Report Suspicious Behavior: No love lost when it comes to scammers. Report any suspicious activities to the platform or authorities. 

Love is a beautiful journey, and going digital may certainly enhance the chances of finding meaningful connections. As you embark on your virtual quest this Valentine's Day, remember that not all that glitters is gold—sometimes, it's just a cunning cyber scam waiting to break your spirit. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and trust your gut (not your heart).  

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