FBI warns online daters to avoid “free” online verification schemes that prove costly

The FBI has warned of fraudsters targeting users of dating websites and apps with “free” online verification service schemes that turn out to be very costly.

Instead of being free, as advertised, the verification schemes involve steep monthly subscription fees, and will steal personal information on the side.

The scammers collect the information entered by victims at registrations and use it to commit further fraudulent activity such as identity theft or selling the information on the dark web. The stolen information may include email addresses, phone numbers, and even credit card information.

The scam works like this: The scammer initiates contact on a dating website or app, but then quickly asks the victim to move the conversation to a more private, encrypted platform.

Once there, the scammer will recommend a verification link that supposedly provides protection against predators like sex offenders and serial killers. This verification website asks the victim to provide their name, phone number, email address, and credit card number to complete the process.

After completing the registration, the victim is redirected to a shady dating site that charges hefty monthly fees to the victim’s credit card. These charges show up on the credit card statement as a company the victim has never heard of.

The personal information the victim gives the scammers is useful because it allows them to defraud the victims even more. Whether the scammers are the same ones, or others who have bought the information on the dark web makes no difference to the victims.

Avoid falling victim

There are some pointers that may help you to fall victim to scammers such as these:

  • Stay on the platform of your choice. If someone contacts you and wants to continue the conversation elsewhere, that should be a red flag. We saw the same when we discussed scams on Airbnb: It is in the scammers’ interest that the fraud takes place on a platform under their control, where they can’t be as easily tracked.
  • Don’t click on links, downloads or attachments sent to you by strangers. Even if you have been in contact with someone for some time on the internet, they are still strangers. Sometimes they will get to the point fast, but in pig butchering scams for example, the contact can be ongoing for quite a while.
  • If you are contacted by someone and they come across as untrustworthy or suspicious, report them to the platform’s administrators. You may prevent others from falling victim to the scammers.
  • Don’t provide someone you have just met with personal details and information.
  • Monitor your credit card statements and bank accounts for irregularities and contact your bank if you see payments you don’t recognise.
  • Avoid websites that use scare tactics to trick you into registering for a service. At least do a background check to find out if they are legitimate and live up to their promises.
  • Consider identity monitoring. This alerts you if your personal information is found being traded illegally online, and helps you recover after.

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