Money can’t buy you love

Like is or not, the commercialised world we now live in is determined by events in the year. As soon as Christmas is over, the focus is on Easter. Halloween has now become the in-thing whilst every year there seems to be another day of celebration slipped into our conscious by retailers and their marketing teams. One event that is now looming large is Valentine’s Day. For some people this is the opportunity of over-exuberance and lavish gifts to win the hearts of someone. But it is also a big date in the diaries of the fraudsters in trying to part us from our cash.

One industry that has seen the levels of fraud rise as been online dating. As with the way we consume our media, do our shopping and interact with each other, technology has made it easier for us to try to find love, with online apps now catering for all potential suitors. It has never been easier to find love, someone said to me last year and whilst I understand what they are saying, it has also never been easier for a fraudster to break someone’s heart and their savings.

A recent example of the increase in nefarious activity in the online dating world has been an increase in investment-based scams that have started off as online conversations between two people supposedly “looking for love”. INTERPOL has recently brought the subject to the attention of all of its 194 member countries by issuing a Purple Notice outlining a specific modus operandi on dating apps and websites.

The International Criminal Police Organisation have compiled evidence based on reported cases that have used dating websites, with, as they refer to is, an artificial romance being established, trust being built and then sharing details of an investment scheme that they encourage them to take part in. After all, having spent time getting to know each other, sharing personal and potentially intimate details, the long-term prospects of a relationship look good. The fraudsters “sell” the investment scheme, often accessed via an app and continue to encourage further investment.

With many relationships now having to start and grow online due to the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on us all, the conditions for these scams to fester has never been stronger.

The investment firms have authentic looking websites, domain names that could be using homographs to make them look real ( rather than – looks identical but there is a small ‘l’ rather than a capital ‘I’) and fake reviews that can be bought easily online. Everything looks good until one day the money, the firm and the potential love of their lives just disappears.

INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes unit has received reports of cases from around the world and have also reached out to the more popular apps and websites to ask for their help in raising any flags from users of suspicious looking activity. On Valentine’s Day it is a case of not only considering the “it” but also “they” in the old adage of If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

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