Cybercriminals offer dating scam letters with guaranteed return: Internet Scambusters #708
Dating scam packages that include letter templates and call centers staffed by bogus lonely-hearts are being sold to con artists who are told they can clear $2,000 a week in ill-gotten gains.
In this week's issue we'll explain how this scam operates and how to avoid being tricked. Plus, we have details on other dating con tricks.
And we'll tell you why you should never agree to pay the IRS with iTunes gift cards!
Let's get started...
Clever Dating Scam Kits Sold Online
What's love worth? Apparently, it's about $2,000 a week if you're a dating scam artist.
And you don't have to do a lot to get those dollars flowing because all of the bogus messages and email addresses are already prepared for you if you subscribe to a Russian crime syndicate.
According to Internet security specialist and blogger Brian Krebs, Russian cybercriminals have compiled a dating scam package that's packed with English language templates that tricksters can pick and choose from as they lead their victims along.
It even includes photographs of attractive women that users can personalize with romantic messages.
Many of them start by suggesting the writer has seen the victim's profile online so they're writing on spec to see if the person is interested in a relationship.
Krebs says the scammer usually poses as a Russian girl, although the email package also includes a fake message from the girl's mother supporting the relationship.
The templates include multiple-choice comments and replies that the scammer can just delete or include according to how the relationship develops.
Of course, at some point, the scammer asks for money using emails that even tells the victims how to raise cash if they're broke. The storyline is usually that the "girlfriend" is in trouble and needs money urgently.
"The romance scam package urges customers to send at least a dozen emails to establish a rapport and relationship before even mentioning the subject of traveling to meet the target," Krebs writes.
"It is in this critical, final part of the scam that the fraudster is encouraged to take advantage of criminal call centers that staff women who can be hired to play the part of the damsel in distress."
And the payoff?
Supposedly, the dating scam package includes a guaranteed 1.2% response rate from spam victims, netting an average $2,000 a week.
This is a very sophisticated scam. The perpetrators even predict that if users can keep victims going for eight consecutive messages, they have a 60% chance of success.
Needless to say, the real message is very clear: Unsolicited emails proposing some sort of romantic relationship are nearly always scams. If you get one, trash it.
Sadly, so many of today's dating scams target older folk, many of whom are single or widowed and just plain lonely.
Usually the aim is to get them to hand over money -- and lots of it. In one case recently reported in Canada, a female victim handed over $100,000 before realizing she had been conned.
A particular sneaky trick is to use religious faiths as a cover for a scam.
Victims are more easily convinced that a would-be date is genuine if the crook claims to belong to the same faith as their victim.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that tricksters are targeting faith-based dating sites like BigChurch, ChristianMingle and JDate.
"People are more likely to fall for scams on sites like these because they can't believe somebody of their own faith is a con artist," says AARP's Jane Margesson.
The organization advises members to research the person they're thinking of dating, checking them out on Google and people-info sites like Spokeo. You might even view the individual's supposed address on a map site like Google Maps.
If you don't get a hit, that's a red flag, says AARP -- and "keep in mind that people who are legitimately looking for love won't ask for money (unless they're your kids)."
Tricked into Muling
However, there is one dating fraud where victims may not be asked for money. Instead, they become unwitting third parties -- "mules" -- in handling stolen goods.
The scam starts out seemingly innocuously, with the exchange of romantic messages via a popular dating site.
After the scammer has built up the confidence of his victim, he asks her (and it is usually a woman) to receive packages on his behalf and send them overseas to where the man is supposedly traveling.
In one case -- reported from Australia -- the victim discovered that the items were actually being bought with a credit card that had been taken out in her name.
A Consumer Protection spokesperson was quoted on Australian television as saying that this sort of scam was relatively new.
"With the general romance scams, you'll quite often find that they're asking for money," she said.
"So it seems to be a concerning turn in relation to how scams are being operated.
"(They're) moving away from taking the money from the victims, and encouraging them to become a mule in the middle of their (criminal) ring to send the stolen items overseas."
So, be warned. If you're involved in an online relationship in which you're asked to send packages to another address, especially overseas, just say "no."
Alert of the Week
Buying music and movies on iTunes may be enjoyable. And so is buying iTunes gift cards for people you love.
But nobody -- except scammers -- seriously suggests these cards can be used as a form of currency to pay an official.
So when you get a request to clear an unpaid IRS tax bill (or any other bill for that matter) by buying and sending iTunes gift card numbers, you know it's a scam.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.