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Women, data and scams

Both men and women are targeted by scammers, but some scams are targeted particularly at women. On International Women’s Day, women’s data needs to be protected both in order to limit the opportunities for scammers, but also for women’s security and control over their own lives and bodies.
Women data and scams Blog

Everyone needs to be aware of scammers out there. They are ever more sophisticated, targeting every walk of life. Women need to be aware of how fraudsters like to target them.

Scams targeting women

First, let’s look at scams that target women more than men.

Dating and companion scams

Amongst the fastest growing scams are romance and companion scams where criminals target people looking for love, romance or even just companionship. Dating or romance fraud is when you think you’ve met your perfect partner online, but they aren’t who they say they are.

Both men and women are targeted by these scams, but there’s evidence that one of the most targeted groups is women between 40 and 60 years old. They are often women who are at a time in their life when they are financially independent. It’s the money that brings the fraudsters out of the woodwork.

You may not think of yourself as vulnerable, but it’s surprising how many people get caught up in romance scams.

The way the scammers work is to create false profiles, using stolen pictures and identities on dating apps or websites. They reach out to innocent people looking for a relationship. It’s simply a confidence-trick, and involves a thief pretending to be loving and affectionate to gain the confidence of the victim.

Often, the scammer uses a dating or social networking site to strike up romances with strangers. The fraudsters go to great lengths to gain the trust of their target. The scams can run for months and, in some cases, even years. Once they’ve gained the trust of the victim, they ask (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or banking/credit card details. The amounts may start small, but they might increase in regularity and sometimes suddenly a request for a large amount for a made up event such as a fake medical emergency or legal problem.

The scammers ‘scrape’ data from social media websites. Personal information such as a recent breakup can be utilised as part of sophisticated social engineering activity. The scammers often create intricate narratives that use any available information on a social media profile, such as the names of relatives, friends, or other details that might add credibility to their approach and help them be taken in by their victims.

Sometimes the apparent new love has a ‘great investment plan’ for the victim’s benefit. About 70% of victims of this kind of scam are women. Interestingly, there is evidence that people who think they would never be caught up in a scam are, in fact, more likely to be.

Online Shopping Scams

We all love a bit of online shopping. Scammers are good at setting up fake websites and often target women through, for example, fashion or women’s health products. Typically there are two categories of online shopping scam. The first is where the fake website fails to deliver against an order. So they take the money and nothing shows up. Or, secondly, they deliver a product that completely differs from what was advertised.

So, if you’re considering buying something from an online store you’re not familiar with, do your own online search to find the real company and reviews or complaints. But don’t click on any links in an email or message that you’ve been sent, always navigate to the company directly yourself.

When an online store has failed to deliver what was promised or refuses to respond to your requests for a refund, contact your bank or credit card company to find out your options. You may be able to have the transaction refunded.

Fake charity scams

Sadly, scammers try to take advantage of our generosity when giving to charity. They may claim to be raising money for a fake charity or impersonate a well-known charity, not only stealing your money, but also reducing how much actually gets to where it’s needed.

Scammers pose as either representatives of legitimate well-known charities or sometimes they’ve been known to create their own charity name. They capitalise on the good nature of their victims, linking their request for money with a well known cause. Global events such as wars or earthquakes get used as cover for scams.

Other scams can include charities that conduct medical research or support disease sufferers and their families. They may also pose as individuals needing donations for health or other reasons. They might even claim to have sick children in need of medical funding.

Women’s data

Scams often begin because a fraudster has access to a key piece of personal data. So, looking after our data is becoming increasingly important so that we know who has it and who has access to it.

In the light of last year’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and in light of certain politicians advocating similar changes to the law in the UK, women need to fight to keep control of their own health.

What happens to your data really matters.

Women’s health apps

Millions of women use health apps every day. Apps to track menstrual cycles, for weight monitoring, and even apps to help navigate life with breast cancer. The apps collect a large amount of intimate personal data, but it’s very private and women need to make sure they have control of it.

Many health apps focused on women are genuinely useful. But, in order for them to function they collect a large amount of intimate personal data, some of which wouldn't even be shared with close friends or family. So, if it’s your data, it’s important you have control over who has it, who has access to it and the ability to delete it from anywhere you don’t want it to be any more.

Of course it depends on the app, but the information that women's health apps typically collect may include:

  • Name and address
  • Gender and date of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Cookies and IP address
  • Menstrual activity and cycle dates
  • Sexual activity and sexual health
  • Fertility and pregnancy plans
  • Sexual orientation
  • Cervical mucus quality
  • Contraceptive history
  • Sleep activity
  • Health diagnoses and medications
  • Details of partners and children
  • Dietary restrictions
  • Fitness level and heart rate
  • Whether you want to prevent or plan a pregnancy
  • Contraceptives history
  • Body temperature, menstruation and intercourse data
  • Ovulation, pregnancy test results and personal notes
  • ‘Usage data’ such as traffic data and the features you access
  • Whether or not you have an active prescription
  • Abortion history

While this information might be necessary for the app to function properly, what most apps don't always say is that they share a lot of this information with third parties. Just as these details are personal, they can be equally as valuable to advertisers.

It’s not only advertisers. Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, security of women’s reproductive data has become even more sensitive. There are fears that authorities in certain states will attempt to track women’s cycles, medication including contraception and search history looking for medical support, with the intention of prosecuting women as a means to control their bodies. This sounds sinister, but it’s a real fear and not limited to the United States. Hard right religious groups in the UK have been making similar suggestions. So take care of your data and think about where it’s held.

Why is women's health data so valuable?

One of the reasons it's so valuable to advertisers is because it allows them to target you more effectively. It allows advertisers to understand exactly what you feel, why you're feeling it and when you do.

Data may be anonymised, or in some cases it may not, and it gets shared with an awful lot of other organisations including social media companies, search engines such as Google and retailers such as Amazon.

Is my data safe?

Your data is not just at risk from unwanted sharing by health apps and websites. They’ve suffered their share of data losses, with the data falling into the hands of hackers who sell it online to scammers and who knows who else.

Putting together profiles on individuals from data stolen from a variety of sources is a scammer's dream, because it enables them to create successful scams or even full blown identity theft. Companies behind health apps and websites have been known to have data leaks by mistake as well as being victims of hackers.

If the health apps and websites don’t have your data, they can’t share it and they can’t lose it. Of course, it’s not just health apps and websites that have your data.

The easiest way to get your data completely erased from companies that no longer need it is to use our Rightly Protect service that can identify who has your data and send a deletion request, to multiple companies in one go and for free. The companies must respond within 30 days and execute your legal right to have your data completely erased.

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