Recent Upswing in Sweetheart Scams

June 20th, 2014

The financial industry has seen a fresh resurgence in “sweetheart” scams. Sweetheart scams are socially engineered fraud designed to target the users of online dating sites. Recently, these types of scams have been linked with mobile banking and remote deposit capture in an attempt to process counterfeit checks. Sweetheart scams can be difficult to detect, as they often involve the willing participation of a legitimate accountholder.

Social engineering scams attempt to manipulate people into divulging sensitive or confidential information. Sweetheart scams see the fraudsters persuading their victims to provide them access to an existing bank account with login credentials, or open a new account the perpetrators can use. From there, the criminal sets up mobile access to the account, enabling remote deposit functionality. With remote deposit, the scammers can deposit counterfeit checks into the accounts through a banking institution’s mobile app and then access funds without the victims’ knowledge.

Often, there are three variations for attempting to get to the money:

  • Fraudsters ask the victim to send a debit card to access funds deposited into the account, enabling the scammer to cash out at an ATM.
  • Another variation involves asking the victim to transfer funds by wire or money order.
  • Scammers seek to have the victim transfer funds to an online account controlled by the criminal.

Sweetheart scams can occur in a number of ways, which is why banks often catch the fraud before the victims do. Financial institutions have seen an upswing in sweetheart scams, due to the popularity of mobile deposit and its ease of use. Criminals are finding new ways to utilize synthetic or compromised IDs to open new accounts to deposit stolen checks, cashing out the funds as soon as checks clear. Victims are susceptible to sweetheart scams due to the level of trust they believe they have developed via online dating sites. Sweetheart scams are designed to steal information as well as funds. It is important to remain diligent and never share your personal or financial information with anyone you do not know. If you have concerns or feel you have been the victim of a sweetheart scam, please contact your local branch or our Corporate Security office at 406-237-2702.