Online dating users lose $1.4 million to crypto romance scams

Online dating users spread across the United States and Europe have lost $1.4 million to Cryptocurrency romance scams.

Sophos, global cybersecurity said in October it uncovered a bitcoin wallet controlled by the attackers that contained nearly $1.4 million in cryptocurrency, allegedly collected from victims.

Cryptocurrency romance scam is also known as CryptoRom scam and it relies heavily on social engineering at almost every stage.

“First, the attackers post convincing fake profiles on legitimate dating sites. Once they’ve made contact with a target, the attackers suggest continuing the conversation on a messaging platform. They then try to persuade the target to install and invest in a fake cryptocurrency trading app. At first, the returns look very good but if the victim asks for their money back or tries to access the funds, they are refused and the money is lost. Our research shows that the attackers are making millions of dollars with this scam,” said Jagadeesh Chandraiah, a senior threat researcher at Sophos.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had in September issued a public notice warning of a rising trend in which scammers are defrauding victims via online romance scams, persuading individuals to send money to allegedly invest or trade cryptocurrency. From January 1, 2021 to July, 2021, the FBI Internet Crime Center (IC3) said it received over 1,800 complaints, related to online romance scams, resulting in losses of approximately $133.4 million.

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Sophos said the latest scam targeted iPhone users through popular dating apps, such as Bumble and Tinder. Also, the attackers have expanded from targeting people in Asia to include people in the US and Europe.

Sophos research noted that beyond stealing victims’ money, the attackers can now gain access to victims’ iPhones by leveraging the Enterprise Signature, a system for software developers that helps organisations pre-test new iOS applications with selected iPhone users before they submit them to the official Apple App Store for review and approval.

The functionality of the Enterprise Signature system can enable attackers to target larger groups of iPhone users with their fake crypto-trading apps and gain remote management control over their devices. This means they can also gain access to personal data, add and remove accounts, and install and manage apps for other malicious purposes.

“Until recently, the criminal operators mainly distributed the fake crypto apps through fake websites that resemble a trusted bank or the Apple App Store,” said Chandraiah. “The addition of the iOS enterprise developer system introduces further risk for victims because they could be handing the attackers the rights to their device and the ability to steal their personal data. To avoid falling victim to these types of scams, iPhone users should only install apps from Apple’s 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.”

Sophos recommends that users install a security solution on their mobile devices, such as Intercept X for Mobile, to protect iOS and Android devices from cyber threats. It is also worth securing all home and personal computers with additional protection such as Sophos Home.


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