Critics of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies latch on to one particular theme in their arguments— the use of digital assets in frauds, scams, and all forms of financial crime. The nigh-anonymous nature of crypto transactions makes them a go-to option for scammers who want to make a quick and untraceable getaway.
While cons are common in the crypto space, with rug pulls, honey pots, and ICO scams no longer new events, hackers are beginning to leverage digital assets in perpetrating frauds on dating sites.
The Nigerian prince episodes are still fresh in the memories of many users of dating apps and sites. Unsuspecting people searching for love fell into the hands of fraudsters who used fake profiles, or even real ones to play a fast one on them. Users in America and Europe fell for the Nigerian prince story, which, in summary, involved a scammer who posed as some rich Nigerian prince and used the promise of mouth-watering rewards to defraud women of their hard-earned money.
Cyber security experts still believe that the ‘Nigerian prince’ scam still succeeds today, but a new monster is in town. The victims are unsuspecting iPhone users who interact with dating sites, and the target reward in cryptocurrency.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck many nations hard, creating economic hardships. With many nations on lockdown and restricted movements, internet use surged worldwide. Dating apps like Bumble and Tinder witnessed an influx of these fake profiles, targeting iPhone users (Analysts believe the scammers target iPhone users because they believe they are generally wealthier than Android users).
This cancer first became rampant in Asia, before it extended to Europe and parts of America. Hiding behind a theme of love and avoiding physical meetings with the excuse of the pandemic, these fake profiles were so convincing that they largely succeeded in defrauding several persons, to the tune of over $130 million in the first six months of 2021.
The Scam Proper
These hackers created fake Chinese profiles and leveraged online dating to carry out their scams. They would trick regular people in search of a fling, or love, into getting involved with them on sites like Grindr and Tinder. Gradually, the scammers will move the chats away from these dating apps to other social media platforms. Then, they would introduce the unsuspecting user to a fake cryptocurrency trading investment app or scheme.
Using a cloned website or application of existing investment platforms to make the scam appear legitimate, the scammers would direct their victims to register on these websites and make a deposit in crypto. A popular method which they used to further convince the victims was to immediately send the capital and additional coins, which they termed profit, back to the victims. That move always appeared to work, then the scammers would convince the victim to go all in, make a bigger deposit for the promise of a larger reward.
Upon making the second and larger crypto deposit to the website, the victims can no longer access their accounts or would be told to make another deposit so they could withdraw their earnings. At this point, the scammer’s exit strategy is well devised. Sooner or later, the victims can no longer reach them, and they go in search of another unsuspecting user. Apart from the loss of money, victims who download these illegitimate apps also put their personal information at risk. Hackers host these harmful clone apps on the Enterprise Signature platform, and through them, can gain remote access to the victim’s phone.
The number of fake profiles continues to rise on these platforms, and social media generally. Colorful pictures, life events, and stories smartly duplicated from the walls of a real person make the profiles even more convincing.
How Have Authorities Reacted?
The FBI advises web users to avoid offers that appear too good to be true, as they are most likely too good to be true. Authorities continue to receive reports in many quarters, with some persons losing as much as $45,000 to these scams. In the end, the responsibility lies mostly on the end-user to identify potential red flags and walk away from obvious scams.
These incidents continue to lend credence to calls for the regulation of cryptocurrencies. In the past, cash was usually the means of exchange or gift cards. Now, hackers choose cryptocurrencies, smearing yet more dirt on global crypto adoption.