Over GH¢3,558,940 was lost to online shopping and romance scams in 2023, the Cyber Security Authority (CSA) has revealed ahead of this year’s Valentine’s Day on February 14, 2024.
It said its investigations revealed a dual menace of online shopping and romance scams, whereby fraudsters exploit the trust and vulnerability of citizens navigating the digital landscape. The findings highlight the increasing threat posed by cybercriminals preying on unsuspecting individuals.
“Valentine’s Day is an occasion when people show their affection for others by sending gifts or items with messages of love. Malicious cyber actors also use the celebration to defraud unsuspecting victims through various schemes. Of the total losses recorded for 2023, at least GH¢3,558,940 was lost through online shopping and romance scams,” it said.
“The Cyber Security Authority is by this alert reminding the public to exercise caution and due diligence in their online activities,” the alert sighted by B&FT warned.
It said the criminals usually use a combination of fake websites, social media impersonation, brand manipulation and strategic blocking to deceive unsuspecting victim.
According to the alert, malicious actors create fake websites or online shops, or impersonate existing businesses on social media – offering heavily discounted packages and items. Victims are enticed to send money for these items which they never receive, or receive in substandard forms.
“They create fake business listings or profiles with their contact details on Google Maps, mimicking legitimate businesses or brands; and use search engine optimisation techniques to manipulate search results for the targetted brand to divert legitimate inquiries to the scammers’ contact numbers. After the unsuspecting victims engage and pay (usually to a mobile money wallet) for products, the scammers block them from making further contact, and the expected delivery does not materialise,” the alert said.
They also send unsolicited emails or messages claiming to be from a romantic partner, or a company offering Valentine’s Day deals. These messages contain links or attachments that when clicked install malicious software (malware), or steal personal information.
They further create fake online profiles to deceive victims into believing they are engaging in a trusting relationship. “They use the relationship to persuade the victims to send money, provide personal and financial information, or purchase items for them.”
Be cautious of too good to be true’ offers
The CSA is therefore calling on the general public to be cautious of “too good to be true” deals on Valentine’s Day packages or gifts.
It further urged them to use a reputable online marketplace or retailer when purchasing Valentine’s Day gifts. Look for reviews and customer feedback before making an online purchase.
“While search engines provide convenient access to information, they can also display manipulated or misleading results. Check on the official websites or with reliable sources to validate the contact details of shops rather than relying solely on search engine results. Also, check user reviews for hints on the contact’s reputation. Be alert for fake online shops and hyped adverts, especially on Facebook, Instagram and Telegram. In most cases, request a physical location to enable you validate the business’s legitimacy,” it stated.