Scammers likely to exploit Valentine's Day

Johannesburg, 13 Feb 2012
Read time 4min 00sec

Scammers can be expected to capitalise on Valentine's Day by spreading malware and trying to gain access to banking details of unsuspecting victims.

This is according to McAfee, which expects global volumes of messages with a Valentine's theme to quadruple, based on previous years' spam volumes. The company also warns that Valentine's scams can appear in e-mails, on computers, smartphones or tablets, as well as in SMSes and through social networks.

Among romance-related scams McAfee has identified so far are spam mail soliciting users' bank details, links to malware, dating scams, and phoney Web sites offering Valentine's products.

Phoney product offers

Counterfeit products can be advertised via e-mail and bogus Web sites, according to McAfee. The company warns consumers to be suspicious of e-mails with subjects along the lines of: “Want to give your sweetheart a nice gift this Valentine's Day?”

These e-mails often lead users to deceptive Web sites that request credit card numbers and personal information, says McAfee, which adds that searches like “Valentine's Day jewellery” may also lead users to phoney sites offering Valentine's products.

Moreover, it says, once users have disclosed their credit card numbers and personal information, they are unlikely to receive any products, but the scammers will have access to their credit card numbers and personal information, which opens the users up to identity theft.

Malicious Valentine's memes

According to McAfee, cyber criminals use e-cards, Valentine's memes and rogue applications to spread malware.

Clicking on a link to a fake e-card may cause users to accidentally download malware onto their devices, says McAfee, adding that, in a recent example, recipients received an e-card that appeared to come from a legitimate greeting card site. However, when the e-card was opened, it prompted recipients to download the latest version of Flash Player in order to view the card.

According to McAfee, the download installed a virus on recipients' machines that tried to access their contacts and other personal information, which potentially left recipients open to identity theft.

McAfee warns that while consumers may be tempted to download Valentine's-themed videos, wallpapers and love songs, scammers use these downloads to spread malware. Once downloaded, these memes can infect users' devices or steal their information.

Finally, McAfee says rogue apps can also spread malware that spam a user's contacts. The company says an example of this occurred last year through a link on Facebook. Users were invited to click on a link to send a love poem to “someone special”. However, when users clicked on the link, it spammed their contacts' Facebook walls with status updates or surveys that asked for personal information.

Courting the scammer

According to McAfee, during Valentine's, many singles go online in search of companionship. However, it warns that scammers also post fake profiles on dating sites to try to get victims to send money or valuables and even share their personal information.

McAfee says these scammers can also approach their victims through social networks and e-mails. They often claim to fall in love with the victim and request money to visit the victim. However, McAfee warns that once the money has been sent, the scammers disappear.

Safety tips

McAfee advises users not to click on links in mails or open e-cards from sources they do not know, adding that users should ensure e-cards come from a legitimate e-card site, even when they are sent from known contacts. Users should also be wary of any romance-related applications or links on social networks, even when these come from a user's contacts.

Users should only make use of paid dating sites and be wary of people who claim to fall in love too fast and request personal information, like financial details. McAfee says users should conduct an online search on potential suitors, cross-referencing the information the suitor gives with sites like LinkedIn.

Consumers should always be wary of deals that sound too good to be true and should never respond to a text message from people they do not know, or a company sending an unsolicited offer.

McAfee adds that consumers conducting online searches should use a safe search tool. Users should also make use of comprehensive security software for their computers and mobile protection on tablets and/or smartphones.

See also