ISIS uses fake Tinder profiles to scam South Africans, finance terrorism

The US said it will "deny ISIS the ability to exploit South Africa's economy to raise and move funds to support its growth."

 The dating app Tinder is shown on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken September 1, 2020. Picture taken September 1, 2020.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)
The dating app Tinder is shown on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken September 1, 2020. Picture taken September 1, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)

Terror organization Islamic State is using fake Tinder profiles in an attempt to catfish and blackmail South Africans into funding the organization's presence across Africa, British news outlet The Times reported on Monday.

The Jihadist terrorist group expanded its influence in Africa and had "set up bases in Africa's most industrialized economy to drive fundraising and recruitment," South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) head Nischal Mewalall told The Times.

Mewalall said that fake profiles, set up by ISIS militants using photos of less-known actresses and models, target South Africans by asking them to share intimate pictures of themselves. The profiles use these pictures to blackmail the individuals, demanding payment which is then reportedly funneled to the Islamic State leadership

US issues sanctions against South African ISIS cell

Earlier in November, the United States issued sanctions against four people allegedly tied to the leader of an Islamic State cell in South Africa for supporting the militant group, along with eight related companies.

AN ISIS fighter uses his phone to  lm a military parade in Syria’s northern Raqqa province in 2014 (credit: REUTERS)AN ISIS fighter uses his phone to lm a military parade in Syria’s northern Raqqa province in 2014 (credit: REUTERS)

In a statement, the US Department of Treasury said it was targeting individuals linked to Farhad Hoomer, who Washington has said led an Islamic State cell in the South African east coast city of Durban.

Those targeted included Nufael Akbar, Yunus Mohamad Akbar and four companies connected to them, the US treasury said. Two other individuals, Mohamad Akbar and Umar Akbar, were also sanctioned as well as four companies tied to Hoomer.

"ISIS continues to present a threat across the African continent," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a separate statement. "The US...will continue to partner with South Africa to deny ISIS the ability to exploit the country’s economy to raise and move funds to support the growth of ISIS affiliates and networks."

Similar tactics used by Palestinian terrorist groups

Palestinian terrorist group Hamas had previously used similar tactics to lure Israeli security officials and IDF soldiers.

The Israeli military began several campaigns and operations in the past five years, warning servicemembers against Hamas honeypots

In 2020, Operation Rebound foiled another Hamas attempt to catfish Israeli soldiers by using pictures of women to lure them into downloading viruses onto their phones. With the Hamas spyware installed, the terror group had access to everything on the soldier’s phones, including their personal pictures. 

Operation Rebound was the third operation against Hamas honeypots and followed Operation Hunter’s Network in 2017 and Operation Heartbreaker in 2018.

In another Hamas attempt to steal information from Israeli security establishment officials, an extensive fake profile network operated by the Palestinian terror group was uncovered earlier in 2022.

The network, reportedly operated by Hamas for several months, was used for surveillance and obtaining sensitive information on the targets, according to Cybereason, the US-based and Israeli-owned company that uncovered Hamas' operation, said.

Anna Ahronheim and Reuters contributed to this report.