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.
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 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.
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.