Sweetheart Scammers – don’t be defrauded by love

Experian CreditExpert has warned those looking for love online to be careful they do not fall foul of ‘sweetheart scammers’, unscrupulous fraudsters who use dating sites as a means to gain your trust, your personal information and potentially your money.

A “sweetheart scam” is a fake profile designed to reflect desirable attributes such as: employed, affluent and trusting. The profile is intended to seem perfect in every way, even down to the same likes and dislikes as the target. Once the target reciprocates and trust has been established over a period of time, the scam usually escalates to the scammer’s unveiling of a problem involving money. Typical scenarios include the request for funds to be able to travel to meet the target or to help the scammer’s sick relative.

While sweetheart scammers are rare, we all need to be proactive in protecting our online identities. The amount of personal information that dating site users willingly broadcast, both in their dating profile and in conversations with potential love interests, can make them the perfect target for identity fraud. Experian data, from CreditExpert’s unique web monitoring tool, shows that over 35 million items of stolen data were illegally traded online in 2012 alone, a threefold increase on 2010 – and details typically shared on dating sites, including birthdays, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, make up a large portion of this illegally traded information.

The Facts

The ‘Sweetheart Scammers’ trend has been in evidence in the US for some time, where dating site users have proved extremely willing to hand over personal information, as figures from Experian’s American consumer researchers have shown:

Consumer research conducted on behalf of Experian shows that 90% of dating website users have been asked to divulge their email address when joining the service. 73% were asked to share their birthday, 32% their phone number, and 28% a physical address.

When initially communicating with a potential match online, 64% of users shared their email address, 35% their phone number, 35% their birthday, and 13% a physical address. 2% were even led to share their bank account details, and 3% their social security number.

Nearly half (44%) of dating site users never take any steps at all (such as Googling the name or looking on social networking sites) to verify that a potential match is who they say they are before communicating with them.

The trend now looks to be becoming more common in the UK, as more and more of us head online to find love. Britons’ internet habits can create the ideal environment for fraudsters to operate, as research conducted on behalf of Experian CreditExpert demonstrates.

Consumer research conducted on behalf of Experian CreditExpert found that nearly one in 10 (8%) of Britons are registered to dating accounts that they don’t actively use, meaning that their personal information is left accessible on the dormant account. Among 25-34 year olds, the figure rises to 13%.

Statistics from Experian CreditExpert have revealed that between May 2012 and Jan 1st 2013, the total number of customers alerted to instances of their information being exposed or misused online stood at 602,553.

The average Briton now has 26 different online accounts – with 25-34-year olds being the most prolific, with no fewer than 40. Despite this, Britons use an average of just five different passwords to keep their details safe, with a quarter (24 per cent) using a single password for the majority of profiles, and one in 25 (four per cent) sticking with the same login details for all their accounts.

What people can do to keep themselves safe online / the common mistakes
There are number of simple things we all do to protect our online identities.

It is important not to have the same password for every account. A recent CreditExpert survey carried out found that we have on average 26 online accounts and only 5 passwords! As a starting point, reduce the amount of services that you are registered to, and then, if you can’t remember a password for every account, always have at least one for email accounts, one for financial and one for social. Mix upper and lower cases and numbers for the greatest security.

Always look for a security padlock icon in the top left hand corner of a page before you register any financial information on a website. One in four people in a recent survey admitted they never thought to check this before making a purchase online.

Don’t reveal too much information on social networking sites. Even sharing your birthday, email address or dogs name could all be misused if seen by someone outside your circle of friends.

One of the first places people notice that they have been the victim of fraud is on their credit report or bank statement.  So it’s wise to monitor these regularly.

If you find that you can be complacent in following these internet safety tips, Experian CreditExpert’s web monitoring tool will scan the web for any mentions of your personal information and you will receive an instant alert if it appears someplace new. This gives you early notification if you details may have been compromised or misused so that you can take immediate action to ensure you do not become a victim of fraud.