Computer users are warned that a number of e-mails are doing the rounds which claim to have been sent by someone wanting to befriend the recipient – but which are really attempts at fraud.
In these emails the supposed sender – generally a female – tells the recipient – normally a man – that she has seen his profile on a social network and would like to get to know him.
If the recipient replies, the "girl" will then ask questions about his interests and tells him that she is in Russia or another east European country and is thinking of moving abroad. Once a friendship has been established, the girl puts forward the idea of moving to the country in which the recipient lives.
All these e-mails are accompanied by photographs of the girl in question.
Then comes the crunch. “Just when the girl is about to leave her country to meet her new ‘friend’, some last-minute problem occurs, such as holdups with the visa or bribes that need to be paid,” says Jeremy Matthews, head of Panda Security’s sub-Saharan operations.
“To overcome these obstacles, the girl then asks for a small sum of money, never more than R5 000.00. This, obviously, is where the fraud starts; the girl doesn't exist: she is just an invention in order to defraud users. If anyone were to pay the money, the story continues, with new problems arising that would require the victim to send yet more cash. And so the fraud continues.”
Matthews says that, while in the past this type of fraud tended to arouse more suspicions, nowadays with so many people participating in social networks, the scams have become more plausible.
“Because there are so many personal profiles and email addresses in the public domain, people may think it feasible that somebody has seen their photos and has taken a liking to them.”
Matthews encourages users to be wary of unsolicited attempts to forge online friendships. Furthermore, he recommends social network profiles to be kept private, with personal information kept to a minimum.