This year, as we approach Valentine’s Day, analysts from Tenable are spreading the word on some romance scams likely to take place:

    • Sextortion, deepfakes and sophisticated social media traps
      With the democratization of Generative AI, romance scams are now incorporating a layer of generative AI and deepfake techniques. Through the use of original and edited videos, audio manipulations, and face-tracking webcam tools, the exploitation of vulnerable individuals has intensified — all geared towards financial gain. This evolution includes the alarming rise of sextortion and digitally altered images, as scammers employ deepfake techniques to entrap and blackmail victims by threatening to expose explicit content featuring their likenesses.
    • Evermore convincing personas
      In the recent past, fake online personas were possible to detect in terms of imperfections or giveaway tendencies in any photos, videos or other materials used to lure victims. Nowadays, fraudsters can create more convincing personas, and are taking their time to build trust with potential victims instead of rushing their prey. Celebrity impersonations, particularly targeting older demographics, have become widespread. Online tools and tutorials are making it easy for scammers to map celebrity likenesses onto their webcams, blurring the lines between reality and deception. These scams often originate on social media platforms, tricking victims into a false sense of security.
    • Pinpoint targeting
      A troubling trend emerging is one where scammers routinely target older individuals, especially those that are widowed or suffering from cognitive impairments such as memory loss. The scammers initiate conversations, gauging the victim’s familiarity with technology before employing pre-recorded videos or live interactions. Notable cases include a Facebook romance scam where a deepfake Mark Ruffalo was used to swindle an elderly artist out of half a million dollars.

According to US Federal Trade Commission, romance scammers typically adjust their story to what they think will work in each situation. Always test chat partners for the following telltale signs:

    • They make excuses not to meet you in person: The most ingenious excuses are used: they are living or traveling outside the country, working on an oil rig, in the military, or working with an international organization.
    • They eventually ask you for money: Once they gain your trust, they will ask for your help to pay medical expenses (for them or a family member), buy their ticket to visit you, pay for their visa, or help them pay fees to get them out of trouble. They may even offer to help you get started in cryptocurrency investing. Note: if a romance partner does not ask for money, that could mean they are after your data — by accessing your bank account(s) or other means of wiping out your assets!
    • They will tell you how to pay: All scammers, not just romance scammers, want to get your money quickly. And they want your money in a way that makes it hard for you to get it back. They’ll tell you to wire money through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram; put money on gift cards (like Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam) and give you the PIN codes; or send money through a money transfer app, or transfer funds in cryptocurrency.
    • They are likely to obtain your personal details to throw you off guard: With today’s highly-connected Dark Web cybercriminals offering stolen data to fraudsters, even people that are highly guarded in nature (when meeting prospective romance partners) can be thrown off guard when the potential Valentine subtly drops cues that prove their (fake) persona is legitimate and genuine. The more suspicious you appear, the less rushed they can become in winning your trust and financial help. Any snippets of your personal life that you previously posted online could be enough to arm scammers with sufficient materials to build up an intimate psychological profile of you to work with.