Ask Molly: Plenty of Phish

February 14, 2019

Dear Molly,

I met someone on an online dating site who says he’s a CIA officer, but I don’t know if he’s telling me the truth. The more we talked the more things didn’t match up. He said that because he works for the CIA, I had to do a background check or else he couldn’t keep talking to me. How do I know this person is really in the CIA, and if this email is legitimate? Is it safe to submit my personal information?

~ Plenty of Phish

* * * * *

Dear Plenty of Phish (and all you lonely hearts out there),

It’s almost Valentine’s Day. If you, like many Americans, are looking for love online, be careful. Please DO NOT give your personal information to anyone on a dating site claiming to be a CIA officer. Best case, they have an overblown ego and bad judgment; worst case, it’s a scam designed to steal your financial information. Don’t take the bait. Unfortunately, our security officers have been hearing more frequently about this particular con. It’s a type of “phishing” scam. (For those that don’t know, “phishing” is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, account numbers, credit card details, and other personally identifying information via electronic communication).

These con artists go onto dating sites and chat up potential victims, pretending to look for love or a date. He (or she) weaves a sorry tale about being a super-secret CIA officer working on a dangerous mission overseas, and then drops the devastating news: she/he will no longer be able to communicate with you unless you submit to a CIA background investigation. Or he needs to designate you as a beneficiary in case he dies on his super-secret mission. Or some other compelling, but fake, reason why he needs your personal information.

Don’t fall for it. We may be one of the world’s most secretive and mysterious workplaces, but the CIA will never solicit information from you in this way. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of this scam, or if you come across someone impersonating a CIA officer, please contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI.

A word to the wise: If it seems fishy, it’s probably phishing.

~ Molly

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