As Americans spent more time online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers used techniques called spoofing and catfishing – when threat actors fool a victim into thinking they are someone they're not – to establish credibility and trick people into giving up their sensitive information, according to a new report from identity verification website Social Catfish, which shares stories of people who have been swindled online.
"Scammers create a variety of tricks to scam people out of their hard-earned money. They create fake profiles and go onto social media platforms, dating sites and online gaming apps to start conversations with their victims. They use a pre-made script to talk to their victims called the scammer’s playbook," Social Catfish noted in its study.
Scammers, once they gain the trust of their victims, then "come up with excuses as to why they might need your money or even other things of value, such as gift cards or cellphones."
Victims in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ohio lost the most money to scammers in 2020, ranging from $621 million in California to $170 million in Ohio, according to the report based on a Social Catfish survey of 722 scam victims and data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and FBI released in 2021.
Scammers stole the least amount of money from victims living in South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Wyoming, according to the study.
Victims are often lured by scammers through dating apps.
The apps most frequented by scammers were social media and messaging platforms Facebook, Google Hangouts, Instagram and WhatsApp, followed by dating apps Plenty of Fish, Match.com, OurTime, Zoosk and Tinder.
Social Catfish noted that Google Hangouts and WhatsApp were the top apps used by scammers because they lure their victims through dating apps and then get "their victims off the app and communicate with them via Google Hangouts to avoid getting reported on the dating app."
"Many scammers claim they don’t go on the dating app that much or don’t like talking on it," the study notes. "…Out of 726 responses, 99 people have claimed that they got scammed on this app."
Outside of dating apps, scammers will use a technique called phishing, or the act of sending emails and text messages that appear to come from official sources or companies asking victims to share personal information. The emails are often disguised with fake email addresses that are close to authentic email addresses, photos and logos that resemble real companies, and convincing language.
Scammers also target victims by calling them from numbers that are not associated to any specific location and making victims believe they are someone they are not.
Most scammers are from Nigeria, China, India, Romania and Mexico, according to Social Catfish.