Rogue’s gallery? New app aims to “out” cybercriminals who prey on online daters

A new app, Truly.am, aims to put a stop to a fast-growing area of online fraud – online dating scams – by forcing cybercriminals to prove they are who they say they are.

Truly.am was shown off at the TechCrunch Europe Hackathon and aims to provide a safety net for daters who are unsure of online “suitors”.

Daters simply load a picture of their online “lover” into the app, and the app then emails the suitor, and performs a biometric check via webcam. The answer is emailed to both. Dating scams are a fast-growing area of online fraud, according to the FBI, with scams that can last for “months”. Cybercriminals can also use sites to distribute malware.

An earlier We Live Security report on a Nigerian “scam factory” uncovered by security expert Brian Krebs found that malicious software such as keyloggers were often delivered via online dating sites, where the malware is delivered as a “picture” of their beloved.

“Here is how it works: somebody you don’t know sends you a picture,” TechCrunch said, in an interview with the makers of the app. “You then go to Truly.am, upload this picture and enter the person’s email address. That person then gets an email and has to verify his or her identity by using their webcam to take a series of images to train the recognition algorithm.”

“Once those images are uploaded to the Truly.am servers, the facial-recognition service takes over and checks them against the original image. Once the results come back, Truly.am tells the user if the image matched and the requester, of course, also gets an email with the results.”

The same approach may have other applications, the creators told TechCrunch and aim to work on a version for professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.

Dating scams are one of the fastest-growing areas of fraud online, with a 27% rise year-on-year in countries such as the UK. The FBI issued a warning this February, saying that cybercriminals were targeting online daters with scams that can last “months”.

“Their most common targets are women over 40, who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled, but every age group and demographic is at risk,” the FBI said, “Here’s how the scam usually works. You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is emailed to you.”

“For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen – your new-found “friend” is going to ask you for money.”

Criminals start a romance online, then attempt to fool victims into handing over money – sometimes targeting dozens of victims at once, in romances that can last for weeks or months. Another variation of the scam sees criminals collecting messages and photographs, then threatening to post them publicly unless they are paid.

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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