HomeBeware of Love Scams: Insights from Modern Love Study 2024
Feb 10, 2024
5 min read
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Need to Know from SafeWiseIn the last month, malicious Valentine file-based campaigns rose by 25%, malicious Valentine URLs rose by 300%, and Valentine’s spam (including scams) rose by 400%.
Image: Chainarong Prasertthai, iStockBetween Taylor Swift deepfakes and documentaries like The Tinder Swindler (I’m a bit behind on my true story hot goss, tbh), there’s a lot to be skeptical about online. And with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, the prospect of finding a true love connection online is pretty daunting right now.
If you’re single and ready to mingle this Valentine’s Day, up your odds of success by understanding the current online dating landscape, its potential hazards, and how to spot the fakes and find a real love interest.
The McAfee Modern Love Study
For the second year in a row, McAfee has conducted a study focused on how artificial intelligence is changing the future of love and relationships. From creating online dating profiles to writing love letters, artificial intelligence is seeping into our romantic lives. See what the latest research from McAfee reveals about the evolving dating culture ahead of V-Day.
Here are a few of the most surprising stats from the study:
Nearly 7 out of 10 people said they, or someone they know, have started chatting regularly with someone they didn’t know who contacted them on social media.
In the last 12 months, 42% of people said they’d come across fake profiles and/or photos that look AI-generated on dating websites or apps, or on social media.
Nearly 1 of 4 people have used ChatGPT/AI to help create pics or other content for a dating app.
50% of people say they might be motivated to use artificial intelligence to write a Valentine’s Card or other love messages to a love interest.
We talked to McAfee CTO Steve Grobman to gain more insights into the study and what it means for lonely hearts this Valentine’s Day.
“In our recent Modern Love study, McAfee found that romance scams are widespread, largely because of the impact of artificial intelligence on love and relationships. While AI certainly has benefits for people seeking love online, helping them start conversations, craft a compelling message, or fix bad lighting in a photo, there are also nefarious uses of the increasingly accessible, sophisticated technology,” says Grobman. “For example, one-third of Americans said they’d had an online love interest turn out to be a scammer, and 42% of people said they’d come across fake profiles or photos that look AI-generated in the past year, on dating websites, apps, or on social media.”
What does all this data mean for Valentine’s Day?
“McAfee’s Labs team has also seen an increase in Valentine’s themed campaigns,” shares Grobman, “ Including malware campaigns, malicious URLs, and a variety of spam and scams. We expect to see these numbers continue to rise as February 14 gets closer. In the last month, malicious Valentine file-based campaigns rose by 25%, malicious Valentine URLs rose by 300%, and Valentine’s Spam (including scams) rose by 400%.”
Online connections and vulnerabilities
The study found that a significant portion of individuals are turning to online platforms to seek romantic connections. Approximately three in five people (58%) have utilized dating websites, apps, or social media to meet potential partners. But this trend comes with its own set of risks—66% of respondents admitted to (or know someone who has) engaged in conversations with strangers online.
Shockingly, over half of those who engaged in such conversations (57%) said they were asked for cold, hard cash—ranging from investment “opportunities” to purported “emergencies.” Among these requests, 20% sought sums exceeding $5,000, highlighting the grave financial risks associated with these encounters.
Sharing personal information: A dangerous game
It was also found that folks looking for love are often pressured into divulging sensitive personal information. Disturbingly, 23% of respondents were asked to share intimate photos or videos, while others were solicited for details like birth dates (20%), home addresses (17%), and even social security numbers (10%). These findings underscore the dangers of online interactions and the potential for exploitation.
Truth vs. fiction: Unmasking deception
The study exposed the prevalence of deception in online dating. A sizable portion of respondents (42%) said they encountered fake profiles or photos—with mainstream dating platforms and social media being common breeding grounds for such deceit. Additionally, 14% of individuals unknowingly chatted with AI-generated bots, and 31% fell victim to scammers looking to score some moolah.
Forget homemade cards—people are using AI to send a Valentine
In a modern-day twist reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac, 39% of respondents admitted to considering or planning to use AI tools like ChatGPT to craft their Valentine’s Day messages. While some view this as a practical convenience, most (57%) shook their heads at the notion of receiving messages composed by machines instead of their paramour—citing feelings of hurt and deception.
The perils of deepfakes
Escalating concerns surrounding deepfake technology were also highlighted. A staggering 66% of respondents said they had elevated concern about deepfakes, with 43% running into it in the past year. Disturbingly, deepfake scams have victimized many, with perpetrators resorting to voice cloning and impersonation to perpetrate fraud, resulting in substantial financial losses.
McAfee’s CTO shares the red flags to watch for—and how to protect yourself
“It has never been more challenging to protect yourself—and your heart—from potential scammers online,” says Grobman. “Cybercriminals are evolving their tactics at the speed of AI, as we develop our defense mechanisms. This means a healthy dose of skepticism, combined with using the right tools to protect your privacy, identity, and personal information, is a good place to start. Specifically:
Scrutinize any texts, emails, or direct messages you receive from strangers. There are a few tell-tale signs of an AI-written message. For example, AI-generated messages might lack substance.
Do a reverse-image search of any profile pictures your love interest uses. If they’re associated with another name, or with details that don’t match up, it’s likely a scam.
Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person, even if they send you money first. Scammers often send money to soften up their victim and build trust. Likewise, don’t share personal or account info, even if the other person is forthcoming with theirs.
Talk to someone you trust about this new love interest. It can be easy to miss things that don’t add up when you’re emotionally invested and hopeful. So, pay attention to your friends or family when they show signs of concern, and take the relationship slowly.
Limit who can view and share your posts on social media. By setting accounts to private and being mindful of who you add as friends or followers, you reduce the likelihood of your images being misused.
Invest in tools that use AI to beat AI. For example, from blocking dangerous links that appear on text messages, social media, or web browsers, customers across all platforms can take advantage of the AI-driven technology behind McAfee Scam Protection to engage with text messages, read emails, and browse the web peacefully and securely.
Today’s dating culture lends itself to romance scams
Grobman explains that with 58% of Americans using, or having used, dating websites, apps, or social media to find love, the rise of easily accessible and powerful AI tools has added complexity to the dating scene.
Sincere users of these platforms are seeking personal and intimate relationships, not to be blindsided and exploited by scammers. Further, the format of interactions on dating apps makes it easy for scammers to stay anonymous, enabling them to easily create fake dating profiles, using deepfakes and information to scam unsuspecting online daters.
Protect your heart, wallet, and identity this Valentine’s Day
As we navigate the digital realm of romance, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against love scams and the evolving threats posed by technology. By exercising caution, refraining from divulging sensitive information, and verifying the authenticity of online interactions, you can safeguard yourself against the heartbreaking perils of love scams.
This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate love responsibly, ensuring that our expressions of affection remain authentic and untainted by the shadows of deception lurking in the digital sphere.
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Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more.
You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.
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