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Cyjax warns against increasing activity from romance scams

February 2024 by Cyjax

Analysts from Cyjax, a threat intelligence provider, found an increase in romance scams from social engineering groups based in Africa posing as diplomats abroad. These threat actors are targeting UK-based wealthy middle-aged individuals between 30-55.

By claiming to be on diplomatic missions abroad, they evade detection, avoiding video calls or in-person meetings. This follows the same modus operandi of military-themed romance scams, but instead use travel as an excuse. Scammers also receive payments from victims using platforms such as Remitly, World Remit, SendCash, and Afriex, helping with the narrative that they’re always on the move. This also raises less suspicion than asking for cryptocurrency or gift cards.

Analysts found romance scammers sending small payments to victims to build trust. These payments were typically below £200 given as one-off gifts. These supposed gifts are then used to emotionally exploit victims, with attackers alleging that they are experiencing financial trouble.

“Despite the amount of information available on detecting scammers, this industry is flourishing. Romance scams differ from other types because they exploit a victim’s personal feelings and loneliness so even though avoiding video or phone calls might be flagged as suspicious, many victims would rather avoid facing the truth for as long as possible,” said Azhar Hussain, Cyber Intelligence Lead. “It’s all about gaining and maintaining as much trust as possible and with little tricks like sending gifts, they earn a lot of goodwill from their targets.”

To avoid romance scams online, Cyjax recommends the following:
• Verify the person you’re speaking to via video or ask for voice messages.
• Request a current picture with a visible time stamp or with something specific like a fork or spoon.
• Run a reverse image search of their profile photo to see if it matches with someone else.
• Avoid sending any money or gift cards.
• Avoid giving out any personal or compromising information.
• Meet in person before taking communication off the dating site.
• Look for inconsistencies around their employment, do they claim to be an army commando one day, then a police person the next?
• Verify their background by asking about where they live and what their favourite restaurant is. If they claimed to be from Paris but their favourite restaurant is next to the Eiffel tower they’re likely lying.

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