Don’t let Valentine’s Day scams break your heart, and wallet
Many consumers look for a little romance on Valentine’s Day, whether it is a thoughtful gift, a romantic getaway, or a heartfelt e-card, but if you’re looking for these things online, beware. McAfee Labs expects messages with a Valentine’s theme to quadruple globally as we approach the holiday, based on previous years of spam volumes. This means that the bad guys are trying to take advantage of our open hearts with romance-related scams designed to trick you out of your information and money, or get you to click on dangerous links.
Valentine’s scams can show up in your email whether you are using your computer, smartphone or tablet, or even be directed at you via text or social media message, so it’s best to be suspicious of any unsolicited offer, on any device.
To help protect your heart and wallet, here are some examples of the romance-related scams McAfee has seen so far:
- Valentine’s-themed spam—Want to give your sweetheart a nice gift this Valentine’s Day? Spammers hope you do because they are sending out emails advertising watches, roses and more. The danger comes when you click on the links contained in these emails. They could lead you to a deceptive website, asking for your credit card number and personal information, and you will likely end up paying for a product that you never receive.
One of the reasons we’re seeing an influx in this kind of spam is because scammers are using a technique called “snowshoe spamming” in which they spread spam across multiple Internet addresses to evade spam filters. In many cases, they are employing suspicious “marketing” companies to send their bulk mail.
- Dangerous e-cards—Most of us look forward to receiving heartfelt cards on Valentine’s Day, but don’t be too eager to open an e-card from someone you don’t know. If you click on a link in a phony e-card, you could wind up accidentally downloading malware onto your device.In one recent example, recipients received an e-card that appeared to come from a legitimate greeting card site, but when they opened it they were prompted to download the latest version of Flash Player to view the card. If they agreed to the download, it installed a virus on their machine that tried to access their contacts and other personal information, potentially opening them up to identity theft.
- Online dating scams—This time of year, everyone is looking for love and many singles go online in search for that special someone. But if you visit online dating sites or classifieds, be aware that scammers sometimes post fake profiles to try to lure victims into sending them money, valuables or personal information. You may even be approached on a social network or via email from someone who claims to be looking for a relationship.A typical scam, is when the “online dater” claims to fall in love with the victim and requests money to come visit, but once the victim sends the money the dater disappears. Or, the phony Romeo or Juliet may hand you a sob story, such as claiming they have a sick child and then ask you for money to take care of them.
- Unsafe searches—Before you jump online to search for that perfect Valentine’s Day gift, keep in mind that the scammers are looking to pull you in with bogus websites offering too-good-to-be-true deals. You may, for instance, come across a dangerous website while doing a search for “Valentine’s Day jewelry.” Attracted by the site’s low prices, you may enter your credit card number and personal information and then get sweet nothings in return. The bad guy, however, not only has your credit card information but also enough personal details to open you up to identity theft.
- Love-Disguised Malware—While the holiday may inspire you to download a cute video, Cupid wallpaper, a love song, or a Valentine’s Day theme for your Facebook profile, be cautious. Scammers have been busy distributing romance-related malware, that once downloaded can potentially infect your device or steal your information.
- Rogue applications—Sure you want to spread the love this Valentine’s Day, but clicking on dangerous romance-related apps could leave you spreading spam or malware instead.In an example from last year, you could see a post on Facebook for a “Valentine’s Day Special” inviting you to click on a link to send a love poem to someone special. But, once you click, it spams your friends’ Facebook Walls with status updates or surveys that ask for personal information.
Tips to protect your heart and wallet:
- Don’t open or click on links in spam emails
- Never click on a link in an e-card from someone you don’t know
- When you receive an e-card, check the address it was sent from and validate that is a legitimate e-card website by doing a search online, even if the card appears to be coming from someone you know
- Only use paid dating sites and be suspicious of anyone who claims to fall in love too fast, and requests personal information, such as your Social Security number or financial details, as well as money or valuables
- Do an online search on any potential suitor to see if what they’ve said about themselves is true. Cross-reference the information you have against sites like LinkedIn or Spokeo.
- Never respond to a text message from someone you don’t know, or a company sending an unsolicited offer
- Be suspicious of any deals that sound too good to be true. If you get an offer that is way below the standard rate of a product, ignore it.
- When searching online, use a safe search tools such as McAfee SiteAdvisor ™, which can warn you if a site is safe or not from malware right in your search results, and can help you steer clear of dangerous websites designed to steal your information
- When using social networking sites, be suspicious of any romance-related applications or links, even if they appear to be coming from a friend
- To help protect your computer from malware, use comprehensive security software
- Install mobile protection on your tablet and/or smartphone to help protect your data and photos, and safeguard you from the latest threats