Will you be a cybercriminal’s Valentine this year?

Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate love for most but also a time for cybercriminals to prey on those who may be vulnerable to compromise. Valentine’s Day provides the platform to leverage one of the most powerful human emotions, love, but this time to orchestrate a bad outcome. At one time or another, we have all hoped that the day will bring a flurry of secret admirers or anonymous gestures of romance, be that through love letters, flowers or other gifts.

It’s at times like this when good judgment can wane and leave us exposed to being exploited.

Cybercrime’s affiliation with Valentine’s Day and the ‘love’ emotion isn’t new, romance scams have been around since the turn of the century. Back in May 2000, businesses globally saw the effects of one of the first large-scale email-borne malware, not so affectionately known as LoveBug.

LoveBug was a huge milestone in the industry, it was the first mass mailer worm of its size.

It sent an executable attachment to victims with the subject “Love letter for you”, containing the self-spreading computer virus which destroyed data once a machine was infected. The subject line, of course, piqued people’s interest with it also being sent from email addresses of contacts that they knew. LoveBug was the first of its kind, preying on our good-nature and positive expectations.

Fast-forward to today and attackers are still preying on our human frailties but have become more targeted in their approach.

According to ACCC ScamWatch website, Australians reported almost 4,000 dating and romance scams in 2019, with losses of more than $28.6 million, and these numbers will be just the tip of the iceberg. Around 37.5 percent of reports resulted in a loss, with an average loss of more than $19,000.

A research piece by Agari’s Cyber Intelligence Division found a group of individuals who targeted individuals engaging them via social media, text messages, and Google voice and encouraging the victim to share love messages, selfies and even photos with friends. The attackers even went as far as to send flowers to two victims.

These attackers are patient and play the long game with victims, building up trust and loyalty to the point where they can then start to play on their emotions for financial gain. Requesting access to their victim’s bank accounts, retirement accounts and even asking them to purchase prepaid debit cards. Once they’ve taken all money available, scammers will then move on to the next target, leaving the victim confused, heartbroken and broke.

The sad reality is that many victims have no idea they’ve been part of a scam, and in some cases, it has been almost nine years before an individual has been notified by external parties or law enforcement.

Across the ages, cybercriminals have stayed true to one thing; exploiting human nature. Whether that be via curiosity, vulnerability or fear, make sure you keep your guard up today just in case.

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