Looking for Valentine's love online? Beware of scammers and cat phishing

In most cases, the victim is contacted by a younger, beautiful, online-only personality.
In most cases, the victim is contacted by a younger, beautiful, online-only personality.
Image: Pixabay/athree23

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, hopeful romantics be warned — cat phishing and online romance scams could leave you heartbroken and broke.

“In most cases, the victim has been contacted by a younger, beautiful, online-only personality and is convinced of the person’s sudden, passionate, requited love, even when asked for money,” says Anna Collard, MD of KnowBe4 Africa, a specialist in cybersecurity awareness training.

“Many victims of cat phishing lose substantial sums of money, sometimes their entire life savings.”  

Collard said dating apps were great and a lot of people found partners or even a spouse online, but they also attracted scammers.

“Unfortunately, dating apps don’t only attract lonely hearts, but scammers too. They are there to steal your money or manipulate you into doing things you wouldn’t normally do,” said Collard.

She said scammers could also be cyber criminals whose intentions were to try to earn your trust to gain access to a company network.

“If you have certain privileges in your job, such as IT administrator, HR or finance, you could be targeted by these so-called social engineers or people hackers,” she said.

KnowBe4 Africa provided these tips on how to spot a scam that could end in heartache:  

The scammer is beautiful

If every picture looks as if it came from a fashion magazine, it probably has. If they have only one profile pic, swipe left.

The victim has never met them in person

The key to most romance scams is that the victim and the date have never met in person, or if they did, they didn’t look anything like the beautiful person in the photograph. If voice changes are challenged, usually the scammer comes up with a scenario as if they have a cold.

The online person is from a foreign country

The scammer is almost always from, or travelling in, a foreign country. The distance ensures that it is not easy or cheap for the victim and scammer to meet in person.

Initial contact comes from the scammer

Not only are the “dates” beautiful, but they make most of the initial overtures. They contact the victim first and respond quickly. They don’t appear to be shy or wary. Super-beautiful people don’t grow up having to be super-forward on the dating scene. If anything, they are more wary and selective.

The scammer falls in love too fast

How long should it be before the other person says “I love you” on a dating site? It’s probably longer than a few days or a few e-mails.

The scammer wants to move to personal e-mail quickly

Why? Because they are usually trying to pull off hundreds of dating scams at once and their current fake personae profile will likely be removed after enough complaints.

E-mail address doesn’t match the name

When their e-mail address doesn’t come close to matching their claimed name — claimed name is Katrina Korkova, but e-mail address is MarinaAnnPopavich1751@gmail.com — run away.

They claim to be famous or to have a doctorate

According to data from dating site SeekingArrangement.com, 37% of scammers claim to have a doctorate.

Is it a bot?

If their messaging responses don't make sense, it might be a bot replying to you. Spelling and grammar are also a sign of a scam. If they claim to have a PhD, but can’t spell properly, it is a huge red flag.

Money, money, money

They need money to put off some horrible event or to visit you to share their incredible love. They need money for a sick relative. They need money for a visa. They need money for travel plans. 

Meanwhile, the organisation suggested only meeting in public places. It gave three tips on how to prove a person was a scammer. 

Ask for an updated photo

If they protest, tell them that your best friend/parent/child doesn’t believe that they are real and that you want proof to shut them up.

Do image and text searches

The victim always has one or more photos of the potential scammer. Using Bing (choose search by image by clicking on the camera icon under the image search subsection) or Google, do an image search using a specific photo. Put in any keywords to narrow down the search.

Confront the victim with the evidence

If you show them enough evidence that their one and only true love isn’t real love, they usually come back to reality.


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