Social engineering is the act of manipulating people into performing certain actions or divulging confidential information. Essentially it’s a fancier, more technical form of lying.
Combine naiveté with predators who use social engineering to manipulate their victims, and you get stories like this one, about an Illinois man who sent more than $200,000 to an “online girlfriend,” who didn’t actually exist. The man believed he had been in a relationship with the fictional woman for more than two years when he called police to report that she had been kidnapped in London. He then explained that over the course of the relationship, he had wired money to bank accounts In Nigeria, Malaysia, England, and the United States at his supposed girlfriend’s request.
It’s not as difficult as you might imagine to get swindled out of your money this way. Everyone wants to love and to be loved, and everyone likes to think they’re too smart to get scammed. The scammer’s advantage is his ability to appeal to a victim’s loneliness, which often trumps common sense and facilitates bad decision-making.
More than 40 million people subscribe to online dating services, and millions of those subscribers develop intimate, albeit virtual relationships with anonymous strangers. The most vulnerable users are often those who married young, divorced, and are now in their late 40s or early 50s, facing a new chapter of their lives. This dramatic life transition can foster a degree of loneliness and uncertainty that is extremely difficult to overcome without support from others.
Dating sites could protect users by incorporating another layer of protection, such as device reputation management, which would analyze the computers, smartphones, and tablets used to create new accounts. By examining the device used to connect to one’s website, the website’s operator can reject new accounts or transactions from users with a history of running online scams and spamming in other online communities.