Cybercrime experts are warning about the rise of a new kind of scam threatening people who use online dating platforms like Tinder and Bumble.
It typically happens like this: Someone you've met online and been chatting to for weeks or months is dropping hints that they've made lots of money investing in a certain cryptocurrency.
Things soon turn into Bitcoin investment advice, and the victim is left out in the cold after transferring their savings to a seemingly professional-looking crypto investment website.
More and more cybercrime experts are reporting cases of people being scammed into sending money to fake exchange platforms as part of catfishing scams – when criminals assume a false digital identity to stage a romantic interest online and swindle someone out of money.
Germany's cybercriminal investigation experts are now among the latest to warn against this online dating scam after a 26-year-old man from near the southern city of Augsburg was cheated out of about 100,000 euros (113,000 dollars) while online dating.
According to the police, the man had been chatting to a woman from abroad since the start of 2021 using a dating app.
After a while, she convinced him to invest in cryptocurrencies on a certain online trading platform. When the cryptocurrency values increased, the man invested more and more money from his private savings, police in Germany said.
When he finally wanted to have the profits paid out, he realised that he had been scammed and then filed a complaint at the end of November. It's now doubtful as to whether the man will see the money again, as cryptocurrencies are designed to be anonymous.
According to experts who consult victims of cybercrime, most catfishing scams involve the criminal pretending to be a romantic interest for a certain amount of time and then saying they need money for plane tickets or medical bills.
But things work differently with the new cryptocurrency catfishing scams.
"In the new model the criminals are posing as wealthy individuals – or financial experts – who have made a lot of money through investing – often in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin," The Cyber Helpline writes on its advice page.
Generally speaking, alarm bells should be ringing if someone you've never met in person is giving you Bitcoin investment advice.
But this latest form of crypto catfishing is made all the more easy for criminals by numerous media stories of people making fortunes by quickly investing in new and emerging cryptocurrencies.
"I have been financially scammed out of my Bitcoin," one victim of crypto catfishing told The Cyber Helpline. "I was contacted by someone on a dating website that was actively encouraging me to use a particular exchange that now turns out to have been completely fake and for the purpose of the scam."
If a person you've met online is suggesting you make financial investments and you've never met them before, you may be able to find out if they're lying about their identify by doing a reverse image search of any photos they have shared with you.
Upload a photo to images.google.com and you'll see if there are any prior hits for this photo on the web, which may tell you someone else's identity has been stolen. – dpa