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Online crooks cashing in on our base emotions, analyst warns


Guard your heart, check your head, and question your eyes when you go online – that’s what cybersecurity veteran Norton is advising those who want to stay one step ahead of scammers.

Romance scams, bogus cryptocurrency schemes, and deepfake videos have been circled by Norton as the three major threats facing ordinary people today on the web in its latest blog roundup published today.

“Romance fraud is a particularly sinister type of scam that preys on vulnerable people looking for love and connection,” said Norton. “Scammers adopt fake online identities to carefully select potential targets, often favoring recently widowed or divorced victims.”

“Once the scammers find a victim, they take the time to cultivate the illusion of a romantic relationship to gain the victim's trust with the goal to manipulate and steal from them. Romance scammers are highly trained con artists, they know exactly what to say to make the victim feel important and loved. As a result, these scammers can be very believable and convincing to the untrained eye.”

And the untrained eye can also be easily deceived by deepfake videos – computational constructs that blend genuine images to create a facsimile of a person, which can then be used to make a person appear to do something they never would in real life.

Once the preserve of so-called “celebrity porn” X-rated videos, deepfakes are now being used by cyber soldiers in a disinformation war as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalates.

“Deepfakes have been deployed to create fake profiles on YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter,” said Norton. “While they are created for a variety of reasons, like a funny video on TikTok or marketing on LinkedIn, they are also being used in more devious ways and have been deployed as propaganda in the ongoing war in Ukraine to sow confusion and doubt.”

The techniques for fabricating fake videos and photos have improved in recent years, but luckily so too has the methodology for rooting them out.

“While it used to take an expert with the right tools several hours to create a convincing fake image, nowadays advances in technology and availability of tools have made deepfakes easier for an average person to create,” said Norton.

Telltale signs of a deepfake image of a person include a scale-like effect that slightly disfigures the ears, a “cockeyed” stare, and a halo-like effect around the hair.

How to spot a deepfake image

Bait for ‘suckers’

Victims of cryptocurrency scams are usually lured by a combination of their own greed and gullibility, and of course, the scammer’s deviousness. Norton found that fake “giveaways” promoted on social media platforms such as Twitter, as well as via email and SMS, were popular among crooks.

In the case of the former, high-profile figures such as Elon Musk – who at the time of writing has made a $44 billion bid to own the social media platform – are mimicked, acting as a further lure to draw in the unwary. “Feeling greatful [sic], doubling all payments sent to my BTC address!” declared one deepfaked version of Musk’s Twitter feed, with the obligatory malicious link helpfully appended to the post.

Twitter scam impersonating Elon Musk in phony crypto giveaway

Cannier readers unable to believe that such crude trickery can ever work well enough for a reputable firm like Norton to flag it up should be cordially reminded of the old maxim: “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Not to mention that the cybersecurity analyst tracked more than $29 million in Bitcoin stolen last year using this and other similar methods.

Romance scammers are clearly all too aware of the old saying themselves. A “sucker’s list,” on which the credentials of previous victims can be bought and sold, has also been uncovered by Norton, increasing the chances of a hapless lonely heart suffering ongoing torment.

“Once the victim has shown an interest, scammers get to work,” said Norton. “They manufacture a crisis that warrants the requests for money, hoping the victim complies. The scammers continue the trick, asking for larger sums of money as time goes by. Victims that deny requests for money are often bullied. Even after the victim has ended the relationship, there is a high chance of revictimization.”

No good deed goes unpunished

Sadly, Norton forecasts that as tragic world events continue to unfold in 2022, pickings will only get richer for cybercriminals keen to cash in on cryptocurrency’s growing worth. It expects the bitcoin haul to rise on last year’s tally, as these crooks seek to exploit not just self-interest or loneliness but more altruistic sentiments as well.

“Scammers capitalize on world events, including the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, to steal donations from philanthropic crypto investors,” it said. “New threats emerge as cybercriminals combine tactics. [Faced with] realistic disinformation via deepfakes in a phishing scam that collects payment in cryptocurrency, a consumer would have little to no recourse.”

Internet users are therefore urged to remain vigilant at all times when online and remember another old maxim: “if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”


More from Cybernews:

Elon Musk strikes a deal to buy Twitter for $44bn

Worries over human rights surge as Musk plans to take Twitter private

North Korean hackers are after the blockchain and crypto sectors, the US government warns

A day in the life of a Ukraine cyber soldier

Nexo launches the first crypto-backed payment card

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