Red flag

Crooks tap­ping into e-mail to dupe peo­ple out of their money


“If a per­son is re­quest­ing cash be wired to them, that should be a red flag that some­thing isn’t quite right,” warns a mem­ber of the RCMP’s Tech­ni­cal Crime Unit. He has some use­ful ad­vice for those who would be duped out of their hard earned cash by high tech con artists.

Krista Chat­man Li of Canning’s Cove, Bon­av­ista Bay was stunned when she re­ceived an e-mail from her friend in In­dia des­per­ately seek­ing money to re­turn to her home in New Brunswick.

At first, she says, she was wor­ried about her friend - a se­nior ci­ti­zen orig­i­nally from In­dia who she’d met while vol­un­teer­ing with the Asian Her­itage So­ci­ety in New Brunswick.

“I won­dered what if she was sick or some­thing and needed money for hos­pi­tal­iza­tion,” Chat­man Li says.

A grad­u­ate stu­dent pur­su­ing a Mas­ter’s de­gree, Chat­man Li now lives in Ed­mon­ton.

While she knew her friend was in­deed in In­dia, she says the plea for help didn’t come across as le­git­i­mate.

“ This lady is very wealthy and her fami- ly in In­dia is ex­tremely wealthy. So, af­ter some com­mon sense think­ing, I knew that there was no way she would ask me, a grad­u­ate stu­dent, for money.”

Chat­man Li got in touch with an­other friend of the woman’s, who also lived in New Brunswick. He, too, had re­ceived a sim­i­lar e-mail. “ We con­tacted her fam­ily and found out that she was just fine in In­dia and that her e-mail had been com­pro­mised,” she says.

Cpl. Rus­sell Al­lan of the RCMP’s At­lantic Re­gion In­te­grated Tech­no­log­i­cal Crime Unit says the e-mail sce­nario of a stranded, sick friend or rel­a­tive looking for money isn’t new to the po­lice.

“ We’ve had re­ports in New­found­land of peo­ple be­ing out thou­sands of dol­lars,” Al­lan says.

Red flag

If a per­son is re­quest­ing cash be wired to them, that should be a red flag that some­thing isn’t quite right, he says.

“It would be a lot eas­ier for some­one to book a plane ticket rather than to send cash over­seas.”

An­other sce­nario known to po­lice sees peo­ple re­ceiv­ing an e-mail from a friend say­ing they have been robbed while on va­ca­tion and ev­ery­thing has been taken, in­clud­ing their pass­ports.

The in­di­vid­ual then asks that money be wired to them, of­ten­times to a postof­fice box ad­dress.

Such hoaxes tar­get peo­ple’s emo­tions, Al­lan says.

“Pretty much any sce­nario where a per­son may end up stranded, the cul­prits will take that sce­nario and take it to ex­tremes.”

It’s not un­usual, Al­lan says, for peo­ple to re­port to po­lice that their Face­book or e-mail ac­count has been hacked.

In most cases, Al­lan says, the ac­count hasn’t ac­tu­ally been hacked by some­one gain­ing ac­cess to the ac­count.

In­stead, he says, po­lice re­fer to what’s hap­pen­ing as “so­cial en­gi­neer­ing.”

It’s of­ten easy to gain ac­cess to some­one’s Face­book or other so­cial net­work ac­counts as many peo­ple use fam­ily and pet names as well as ad­dresses to cre­ate pass­words.

Guess­ing pass­words

Guess­ing th­ese pass­words doesn’t take a ge­nius.

“ The more in­for­ma­tion the bad guy has, the eas­ier it will be for them to so­cial en­gi­neer that in­for­ma­tion to guess at your pass­word.”

It’s a good idea, he says, to make sure you have dif­fer­ent pass­words - with a com­bi­na­tion of let­ters and num­bers - for ev­ery ac­count.

Peo­ple should also re­mem­ber to make sure their pass­word isn’t saved when log­ging off var­i­ous so­cial net­work­ing sites, par­tic­u­larly if they are us­ing a pub­lic com­puter.

“If their pass­word is saved, even if they log out, the next per­son sit­ting at that com­puter can ac­cess their ac­counts quite eas­ily.”

While a decade ago peo­ple wor­ried most about shar­ing credit card in­for­ma­tion on­line, to­day’s com­puter user needs to be aware that too much in­for­ma­tion shared on so­cial net­work­ing sites can at­tract fraud­sters.

“A lot of peo­ple have an open pro­file so it’s easy to go in and cre­ate a per­sona of that per­son by looking at all their in­for­ma­tion,” Al­lan says.

Peo­ple who use such sites should en­sure that they’ve been set up in such a way that only peo­ple they know have ac­cess to their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Bo­gus ac­counts

If such se­cu­rity fea­tures are not in place, Al­lan says, fraud­sters can cre­ate bo­gus ac­counts, which look real, and send mes­sage to all their friends.

“ We get calls from the gen­eral pub­lic telling us that they have a new sce­nario but quite of­ten it’s al­ready come across our desk,” Al­lan says.

Any type of in­for­ma­tion that can be used to steal a per­son’s iden­tity - name, ad­dress, birth date - are step­ping stones to gath­er­ing more data about a per­son to be used to the crook’s ad­van­tage.

Al­lan be­lieves more peo­ple are fall­ing prey to such crimes than po­lice know about.

“ We guess there are a lot of peo­ple that have been duped that just don’t bother to call the po­lice. They’re em­bar­rassed by it. But when they do call us we let them know that they’re not the first per­son this has hap­pened to.”

Be­cause many of the fraud­sters op­er­ate in for­eign coun­tries, get­ting some­one’s money back is al­most im­pos­si­ble, Al­lan says.

“ You’d have to be out an ex­tremely large sum of money for any po­lice force to jus­tify such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Whether chat­ting with friends, up­dat­ing a Face­book sta­tus or surf­ing other so­cial net­work sites, the im­por­tant thing to keep in mind when sit­ting in front of the com­puter is - hold your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion close to your chest.

“It goes be­yond credit cards and bank­ing in­for­ma­tion,” Al­lan says.

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