Cybersecurity experts in the UAE have warned against the dangers of online dating scams on social media.
They urged people not to expose themselves to scammers by sharing personal information on social media platforms.
Toufic Maalouf, account manager in the Middle East for tech company Acronis, said blackmailers steal information and photos of people to create fake profiles to lure innocent users.
“Automated tools can be used to create fake profiles and the interaction can then be done by bots or from real users. One example is sending links to malicious websites and getting people to click on them,” he said.
This month, Dubai Police warned people about cybercriminals who set up fake profiles on dating sites to blackmail people.
“Romance scams are a popular type of attack and start with fake profiles,” Mr Maalouf said.
“The scammers interact for a long time with the victim as they try to gain their trust.
“In the end, they will use a story to ask for money, like a hospital bill for a close relative or an airplane ticket so they can meet in real life.”
He said blackmailers in romance scams often ask victims to share intimate pictures.
“Some scammers try to get the victim to send some intimate pictures and then start blackmailing them with the threat of posting those photos online,” Mr Maalouf said.
“Do not send money online to people you do not know or cannot verify.
“Don’t follow suspicious links or download new apps recommended to you by people you have just met on dating apps.”
A 2019 study by security company Shred-it showed that 44 per cent of the UAE population was affected by identity theft over the past five years.
A more recent report in the US this year was issued by the Centre for Victim Research.
It stated that 7 per cent to 10 per cent of the US population were victims of identity theft each year, with 21 per cent of those experiencing several incidents.
Dr Sam Small, chief security officer at tech company ZeroFOX, said online predators targeted individuals on social media.
“You could just perform a vanity search if someone is impersonating you, your colleagues or even your brand,” he said.
“Searching through the various online communities can yield interesting results.
“You may find individuals claiming to work for the same organisation as you even though they do not.”
Dr Small said it was essential that people stake a claim to their digital space, even if they have no intention of using it.
“Staking claim to your digital identity helps others reason about the authenticity of any accounts that may impersonate you or take advantage of your absence,” he said.
“In your account profile or description, let others know how you prefer to communicate.”
He also urged people to pay attention to the settings of their various social media platforms.
“Do people know what personal information they have shared online?” he said.
“You should review the account privacy settings for any social media or online community accounts you use.
“You may find that personal data is exposed publicly via your account profile.”
He said many websites give users the option of seeing how their profile was viewed by others.
Venturi Mohan Choudry, vice president of Techware Services and Solutions, said social media users need to treat their personal information the same way they would treat valuables kept in a vault.
“If you are not smart about the information you share on social media, you can actually be aiding cybercriminals to steal your identity,” he said.
“They can guess your secret security passwords by simply looking at your social media profiles, by piecing together the information you put up there.
“The possibilities after that are endless. They can steal your money, poison your image, conduct criminal activities using your profile and even disrupt your family life.
“At the very least, create a separate email ID that you use for social media purposes only and understand and use your privacy settings wisely,” he said.