The 14th day of February. Valentine’s Day. Romantics view the day as a chance to shower their soul mate with love. Sweet words, sentimental cards, elaborate gifts and restaurant reservations are employed by both the committed and those looking to make a love connection. Cynics view it as another example of our over-commercialized society hijacking something that should be expressed much more often and freely.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of scam artists who view Valentine’s Day as just another opportunity to fleece those who are willing to open up their hearts and wallets.
If you plan on celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, here are a few popular scams you’d be wise to be aware of:
FAKE VALENTINE ECARDS – You’ve probably gotten one of these in the past. As our time online has increased through the years, so too has there been an explosion in online greeting cards. These electronic greetings contain text, images, and even customizable movies; they are being swapped between friends, family members and business associates.
The con artists love to exploit emerging trends, and Valentine’s Day is prime territory.
Most electronic greeting cards will arrive via an email informing you that you have a card waiting at greeting card site. A link will be provided for you for that site, and when clicked it will send you to the waiting card. But if you click, beware. You might be getting much more than a seasonal greeting.
The Valentine’s card might appear amusing at first, but the laughter won’t last long. The ecard scam cons victims by placing a malicious link in the email. When clicked, it sends the users browser to an exploitive server. After guaranteeing the potential victim doesn’t have the proper patches in the browsing software, the scammers forcibly load a rootkit and a keystroke logger. Then the victim is sent to the legitimate-appearing greeting card.
A rootkit is software which obscures the fact that your computer has been compromised. Keystroke software is exactly what it sounds like, a way the scammer’s can record every keystroke you make and then divine from the information every user name, password, credit card number, bank account number, social security number or any personal information you enter. If you type it, they now have access to it.
On the user’s end, nothing appears out of the ordinary. An email arrived asking them to check out a Valentine’s Day greeting, they clicked on the link, noticed it wasn’t actually sent by someone they recognized and then closed the card without realizing their identity and financial information was at risk.
Many of these initial emails will be vague, almost coy. A “business associate”, or “family member”, or “close friend” has sent you a Valentine and it can be easily accessed by clicking on the provided link. Never click through on emails from unidentified sources.
Even if it comes from a known person, be wary. Your friend or relative might have been the victim of a virus. They opened the card, had the malware unknowingly loaded, then the virus re-sent the bait to everyone in their address book. It would be wise to go directly to the publishing site the card is supposed to have come from and access it there. Otherwise, contact the sender and make sure they sent the card out. If they were the victim of a self-sustaining virus, they might not even realize the fake cards have been sent in their name.
FLOWER FRAUD – Be careful when ordering flowers online. There are numerous websites which claim to be local florists offering great deals, but in reality they are call centers who will see to it that most of the money you spend goes directly into their own pocket.
Many of these companies advertise on Google under such names as Flowershopers.com or Petalsforless.com and the like. They claim to be located in whatever area you are looking to have flowers delivered. This is a blatant falsehood. What you are getting is a call center with only one location.
You place your order with this call center. You see pictures of the flower arrangement online, or hear a description of what you are purchasing over the phone. You want spend $100, included in which is a reasonable-sounding $12.50 shipping and delivery fee. You feel satisfied with the purchase. Don’t expect the flowers you ordered to necessarily be what shows up on the doorstep.
There is another hidden fee, called a relay fee. The company you are calling is simply going to contact a local florist in the area you are having flowers delivered and place the order for you. They are going to take this “relay fee’ out of the money you intended to spend on an arrangement and forward it directly to their bank account. All the while counting on the fact you won’t actually see what the final arrangement looks like. Instead of the $100 you thought was being spent on the flowers, only $70-60 is actually used, the rest being pocketed by the shady company. This can result in a significantly different floral arrangement than what the customer is led to believe they are purchasing.
When ordering flowers, stick to the big boys, well-known companies with a long track-record of satisfied customers, or consider locating a local florist and order from the store directly after confirming they are physically located in the town where you are having the flowers sent.
PHISHING SCAMS – Valentine’s Day is a popular time for phishing scams because of the high volume of online orders. The scammers send out phony emails with bogus claims that the flowers, candy or cards you sent are being held for deliver. A link is provided which directs the victim to a legitimate-looking website where they are asked to enter in their credit card information for verification before the items in question are released for delivery.
These mass spam emails are often sent blindly, and you can easily recognize them if you haven’t actually placed an order. But their intended targets are those victims who maybe aren’t used to ordering online, and have done so especially for Valentine’s Day. These newbies are much more likely to fall for this type of scam.
If you get this email, never use the link without first calling the seller, florist or company in question on the telephone and verifying if there is any issue. If it looks sketchy, it probably is a scam.
JEWELRY – Starting in the 80’s, the diamond industry began promoting Valentine’s Day as a perfect time to give your loved one jewelry. Thirty years later this has become something of a tradition for some revelers, and represents a growing opportunity for scammers.
There are ubiquitous ads these days, particularly online, offering jewelry at ridiculous prices. “$10,000 diamonds for $500.” Don’t fall for the hype. These ads really proliferate around Valentine’s Day when the market for jewelry is particularly hot.
It’s an easy scam to sell worthless goods to uneducated customers. Doing business electronically makes it even easier. The photos might look great, but chances are you aren’t getting a real diamond, and that gold is probably not 24 karats.
When purchasing jewelry it is always best to do so in person. Buy from someone respected, preferably with bone fide recommendations. Always make these purchases with a credit card; this is your best chance for refuting the charge and getting your money back.
These are just a few of the scams to look out for this Valentine’s Day. Be alert, be smart, and think things through. Make sure the person you are making the happiest on this holiday is the one you love - not some pathetic scam artist who’s wallet you helped fill.