Chai Brady investigates some intricate frauds
No one is completely unsusceptible to the many wheeler dealers and scam artists offering sham services or duping many online. They capitalise on those who may be too trusting or ignorant of the warning signs.
Knowing the right steps to take can fortify anyone against making an expensive mistake.
Scamming comes in all shapes and sizes, it can be harder to judge whether a person is trustworthy particularly if you’ve never seen or met them before. Phone and online scams can be much more subtle in how they present a seemingly good deal or pose as an official company.
The online world is another place that poses a plethora of risks with many extremely tech savvy hackers stealing information with ease from avoidable mistakes made by those who aren’t aware that a website or email is exhibiting many red flags.
Even someone who might know better can be taken advantage of, as those who’ve grown up using laptops and smartphones become more lackadaisical about online security – perhaps relying too heavily on a computer’s anti-virus software.
A survey conducted by a Wexford-based tech company, Datapac found that 14% of Irish office workers had fallen victim to fraudulent online attempts to steal sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details, known as phishing. It most often comes in the form of emails that appear to be sent by genuine sources which encourage users to share their personal information.
Despite millennials feeling the most confident that they can identify these scams – those aged 23-41 are twice as likely to fall victim according to the survey which was done in conjunction with security firm Sophos. About 44% of baby boomers admitted to clicking on a link or attachment in an email from a sender they didn’t recognise, significantly more than millennials, 34%, and generation X: 26%.
Sophos’ Security Specialist Peter Craig tells this newspaper office workers are at an advantage compared to others. He said: “There’s a lot more awareness generally about online scams, but retired people or older people are probably at a disadvantage because they’re not in a workplace where all this stuff is being drummed into them on a daily basis, where there is security awareness training going on to help employees of companies deal with those threats.
“They expect to be hit with security threats whereas perhaps somebody retired has never even considered this, and then those employees can take this knowledge home, they can share that with their families.”
There is a place for the Church in encouraging online security awareness he says, “they can spread that in the parishes” as there are many isolated people that might not be receiving these messages.
Ransomware is another online attack that has hit headlines and involves a person encrypting your device, making it inaccessible and then asking for large amounts of money to re-open it.
“Imagine you’ve got all these pictures of your grandchildren and they’re really precious to you. This virus, this piece of malware, encrypts all these pictures. You get presented with a screen saying unless you pay so many bitcoin or so many thousand dollars you’re never going to see them again. That would be quite a worrying thing,” Mr Craig says.
“There are measures you can take to protect yourself against that, so keeping everything up to date, installing security tools, but also backing up those important pictures.
“Back them up to a USB stick or a hard drive. That means if your machine does get infected with ransomware you can start again, copy your photographs back and get everything back to how it was before.”
The attacks often come via a link in an email or an attachment. These emails may appear to be something a person might be expecting: did you order anything from the ‘company’ that’s contacting you? If receiving an email with a request to change a password, it could easily be a phishing attempt. Check the email address you’ve received the email from, does it look legitimate? Legitimate companies never ask you to send a password or credit card number via email: this is another red flag.
Other small steps include not clicking on links sent from unknown or dubious accounts, watch out for bad spelling or grammar and a lot of care must be taken particularly when receiving messages such as: ‘You’re account will be closed’ or ‘Urgent action required!’
Dating websites can also be an extremely dangerous places, with Mr Craig mentioning two women who were duped into giving over £105,000 (€122,000) last month to fraudsters online.
He says: “It’s so easy to research these days, because people put personal information about themselves, about their families on Facebook, on other social media sites, it’s easy for a criminal to target somebody.”
If there’s large amounts of cash on the line, Mr Craig adds that “they’re prepared to put the work in, to research all that information and to target them quite carefully and in a sophisticated manner”.
“As far as advice goes to stopping that, it’s all the usual things. If it looks too good to be true, don’t bite. If it’s out of the blue from someone you’ve never met before – I guess on a dating site that’s not quite so easy to judge – but anything that involves money or transferring money is something you should be wary of. Anything where they’re putting you under time pressure is something that you should be wary of.”
Scammers can be extremely professional. Due to the huge amount of planning that was going into a particular phone scam An Garda Siochana felt the need to warn people what to look out for. In association with FraudSMART, a fraud awareness initiative led by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), they advised consumers last month to be on alert to a phone scam in which fraudsters claim to be calling from utility companies on the pretence that there are issues with the customer’s broadband service.
The key details include:
l A utility company: e.g. telephone/mobile phone provider, broadband provider or software company, calls offering to ‘fix’ computer or broadband problems. The caller attempts to trick you into revealing your banking or card details and providing codes from your card reader to access your online banking and make fraudulent payments. l You may be asked to allow the caller to take remote control of your computer to ‘assist’ you, however this could allow the fraudster to show you fraudulent screens. l The callers are professional and will be able to transfer you to their ‘supervisor’ should you request this. They sound genuine.
Detective Superintendent Gerard Walsh of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau gave the following advice: “If you have received a suspicious call, hang up and phone the company the person is purporting to be from directly yourself. Do not use a number given to you by the caller and make sure you hear a dial tone before making the call. If you are concerned that you may have fallen victim to a scam contact your local Garda Station and also your bank.”
FraudSMART advises that if someone purporting to be from a company calls, never give out personal information until you’ve established their identity and it is a genuine representative. Their identity can be checked by looking up the organisation’s number on their website or in a phone book.
They say: “Make sure you hear a dial tone before you dial. Do not use a number the caller has given to you as this could be a fake number.
“Don’t assume you can trust caller ID. Fraudsters can spoof a number, so it looks like they are calling from a particular company or bank, even when they are not.
“It takes two people to terminate a landline phone call, you can use a different phone line to independently check the caller’s identity or at least make sure you hear a dial tone before you call anyone.”
They add that fraudsters may have basic information about anyone, and it would be wrong to assume the caller is genuine because of this as it can be sourced online through social media, phone books, websites and more.
Most importantly of all, when being targeted by any scammer, they may try and rush a person into making a decision. Whether it be online, by phone or in person, taking time to make sure you’re fully aware of every aspect of the situation and are fully satisfied all relevant checks have been made may save you a whole lot of heartbreak in the future.