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Valentine’s Day is one of our most cherished holidays. Those of us with loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. Those of us looking for love are spending time, well, looking for love. Cyber-criminals are also out looking for information, but it sure isn’t love.

The FBI reports that “Romance Frauds” or “Catfishing Scams” boom during holidays like Valentine’s Day because people are not interneting safely. In 2017, the agency said, these scams were one of the Top 10 reported internet crimes.

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Valentine’s Day is prime time for cyber-based attacks because people are more emotional, says University of Virginia cybersecurity professor Angela Orebaugh.

A fairly typical scenario is that a cyber-criminal will assume a false identity, often using found photographs from a social media profile, gain a victim’s trust, and then start asking for personal information or money.

Experts say that if it feels fishy, then it is fishy. Watch out for any red flags.

Here are something to look out for in the next couple of weeks:

  • E-Cards from people you don’t know
  • Facebook messages from people you don’t know with links to photos
  • Text messages from numbers you don’t recognize with links to websites

Cyber-criminals may gain access to your data through a virus or piece of malware that is installed when you click on a link that sends you to a suspicious website address or an address that doesn’t include https://

In addition to the tips we offered in our Couch Shopping post in December, here are some ways to practice safe “interneting” this month:

Keep Your Personal Information Personal

One of the first things a cyber-criminal will do is get your personal information, like where you went to high school or your mother’s maiden name. Does that information look familiar? That’s because these are the answers we give to common security questions.

If you don’t know the person then don’t answer those questions. A good rule of thumb is not to give information to anyone you haven’t met in person.

Watch Out for the Long Con

Cyber-criminals have nothing but time, especially considering they’re likely running cons on thousands of targets at the same time. Be wary if you strike up a virtual friendship or romance with someone and they aren’t able to meet you in person.

Keep Your Money Safe

These nefarious characters are looking for many things; money is at the top of that list, and they will spin any story to get that loot. Past victims have reported hearing stories of sick children, emergency medical procedures, and needed funds for travel.

Sometimes the Deal is Too Good

One of the ways the bad guys catch the attention of victims is to send out links with attractive deals, especially during the seasons where gift giving is more prevalent. Offers for bargain price name brand sunglasses, $5 for a dozen roses, or cheap trips, are often too good to be true. Also, be cautious if you see a link that sends you to an unknown domain.

Beyond the above, our security experts suggest:

  • Use Two Factor Authentication
  • Update Anti-Malware Software
  • Only download apps from trusted stores
  • Check data usage – if there are odd peaks, hackers may be stealing your information
  • Check to see what apps are running in the background
  • Never share passwords (and if you suspect anything, change them immediately)

Also, if a recently updated app is asking for permissions that it didn’t need before – a flashlight app now wants access to your contacts, for instance – there’s something amiss. Delete that app immediately!

Have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day!

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