THE BLOG
16/02/2015 09:05 GMT | Updated 15/04/2015 06:59 BST

Don't be Vulnerable this Valentine's Day

New figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reveal that online dating fraud has increased by a third in the last year, costing people millions of pounds. As the popularity of dating online continues to increase, more and more people are being duped into transferring money to seemingly harmless 'new love interests' - or even having money taken directly from their bank accounts.

With Valentine's Day approaching, many people will be flocking to online dating sites to find a date for the weekend - but how many of these individuals recognise the risks that could arise from online dating sites and apps? Based on the NFIB figures, the answer is: not enough! For most of us, when embarking on online dating, or meeting a new love interest, fraud, data theft and hacking are not top of mind. However, with so many customers, and a whole host of personal information up for grabs, dating web sites are an extremely lucrative target for cybercriminals.

The amount of personal details now shared on these sites often far exceeds that shared on social media, or even between friends. Do these individuals really know who's reading up on them, to what extent their personal lives are being exposed and whether their online credentials are being harvested? Possibly not - but these are exactly the questions they should be asking themselves, because should this data fall into the wrong hands, it could lead to not only the exposure of personal data, but also - as the figures show - financial loss.

When signing up to online dating sites, some people automatically use the same password as they use for all other personal logins. However, using the same password for online banking, social media profiles, and online shopping accounts can be a real risk - it builds up quite a compact and complete personal package for the cybercriminal on the lookout for an easy target.

Even though we might hear about the risks time and again, it's important that we keep an eye on our connected lives as much as our wallets or handbags. Data theft really does happen. Recently, one of the top dating sites in Russia was compromised, with hackers stealing a database containing 20 million users' personal information, including names and email addresses. As if this wasn't bad enough, the data was then put up for sale through cybercriminal forums. In a bizarre postscript, the company not only paid to get the data back, but then hired the attacker to help them improve their security!

We need to exercise caution when using popular dating apps. These apps provide access to a huge amount of personal information and people often access them using insecure WiFi networks. Worse still, many people enable location services automatically. This poses a very real danger: they could be sharing their exact location, not with their potential Romeo or Juliet, but with a dangerous substitute - subsequently putting themselves at risk of being stalked by predators and criminals.

Before getting caught up in the whirlwind of a potential online romance this Valentine's Day, be sure to remember that it's not just your heart that needs protecting. The following top tips will help you avoid being duped while looking for love online:

• Install Internet security software to guard your computer and/or mobile devices

• Never use the same password for more than one site: strong unique passwords are essential.

• Be wary of checking into an online dating site from a public, unsecured network, such as in a café, shopping centre or any other public place - keep your passwords, PINs and personal information secure.

• Do your research - ensure you are using a reputable online dating service or app. There are many dodgy sites out there looking to exploit those seeking love.

• Do not allow a dating site to store your credit card information.

• Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don't know and trust