Dating app users lured by high crypto trading returns have increasingly become the target of fraudsters.

An international cryptocurrency trading scam targeting cryptocurrency investors and iPhone users through popular dating apps Bumble and Tinder has escalated, according to the latest research.

Now, the attackers have expanded from targeting people in Asia to include people in the US and Europe. A Bitcoin wallet controlled by the attackers was found to contain nearly US$1.4m in cryptocurrency, allegedly collected from victims, according to Sophos researchers, who have code-named the threat ‘CryptoRom’.

The fraud operation was originally discovered in Asia, where cybercriminals exploited the increased interest in trading apps, cryptocurrencies, and low-cost or free stock trading, to bait victims and steal from them.

These schemes leveraged on social engineering through dating sites (such as Bumble and Tinder) and websites that were designed to look like those belonging to legitimate companies.

Fake dating profiles, fake apps

In addition to stealing money, the attackers can also gain access to victims’ iPhones by leveraging ‘Enterprise Signature’, a system for software developers that helps organizations to pre-test new iOS applications before submission to the official Apple App Store for review and approval.

Using the Enterprise Signature system, attackers can target larger groups of iPhone users with their fake crypto-trading apps and gain remote management control over their devices. This means attackers could potentially do more than just steal cryptocurrency investments from victims. They could also collect personal data, add and remove accounts, and install and manager apps for malicious purposes.

According to Jagadeesh Chandraiah, Senior Threat Researcher, Sophossaid: “The CryptoRom scam relies heavily on social engineering at almost every stage. First, the attackers post convincing fake profiles on legitimate dating sites. Once they have made contact with a target, the attackers suggest continuing the conversation on a messaging platform and persuade the target to install and invest in a (fake) cryptocurrency trading app. At first, the returns look very good but if victims try to access the funds, they are refused and the money is lost.”

Chandraiah noted that until recently, the criminal operators had mainly distributed the fake crypto apps through fake websites that resembled a trusted bank or the Apple App Store: “The golden rule is that if something seems risky or too good to be true – such as someone you barely know telling you about some ‘great’ online investment scheme that will deliver a big profit—then sadly, it probably is,” Chandraiah said.

To avoid falling victim to these types of scams, the public should install security software on their mobile devices and download apps only from trusted sources.