On­line fraud pre­ven­tion spe­cial

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - Advice -

This was fright­en­ing.

The thought of some­one gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion about your and your fam­ily’s life, is in­va­sive – even when done by a friendly per­son who wants to help.

The aim was to dis­cover how much in­for­ma­tion could be found on­line about me, and how it could be used.

What they can do to me, they can do to you too.

Rob, the Dig­i­tal Ea­gle, spent just a few min­utes delv­ing into my life. To start, he was given only my name and, roughly, where in Scot­land I am. But he was quickly able to reel off my ad­dress, and pre­vi­ous ad­dress, my post­code, phone num­ber, mo­bile num­ber, age, em­ployer, hob­bies and the names of my im­me­di­ate fam­ily.

This was my “dig­i­tal foot­print” avail­able from ref­er­ences to me and by me and my fam­ily on so­cial me­dia.

This was sur­pris­ing. I largely can’t be bothered with Face­book, Twit­ter or any so­cial me­dia stuff. But oth­ers close to me are more ac­tive. They’ve men­tioned me, or in­cluded pic­tures of me. They give de­tails of their lives, where they are, what they are do­ing.

When it is all put to­gether, it forms a re­veal­ing pic­ture.

Rob knew my fam­ily’s names, ages, ad­dresses, em­ploy­ment and ed­u­ca­tion his­tory, who their close friends were, their in­ter­ests, and their re­cent move­ments.

He was able to tell where my daugh­ter has re­cently been on hol­i­day.

He told me the day of her flight, the names of the peo­ple she was with, and ac­cu­rate de­tails of her itin­er­ary dur­ing a work­ing trip to In­dia. It was all true. He out­lined a sce­nario. If a per­son pur­port­ing to be my daugh­ter’s friend, emailed me and gave the name of a per­son I don’t know well, but do know of, and in­cluded lots of per­sonal info on who my daugh­ter was trav­el­ling with, and where, and when, and de­tails of them grad­u­at­ing uni­ver­sity to­gether. And then told me the ex­act part of In­dia she was (os­ten­si­bly) in at that mo­ment – how would I know it wasn’t gen­uine?

A con­cocted story could be put for­ward about my daugh­ter be­ing in­jured, hav­ing had her mo­bile phone dam­aged and un­der­go­ing lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties in an off-the­beaten track med­i­cal cen­tre.

They’d ask me to for­ward money. Not a lot, not enough for ma­jor surgery, just a few hun­dred pounds to pay a doc­tor’s bill… and stressed how ur­gent it was, that my daighter was in pain, alone and up­set. The scam­mer would also give de­tails about her friend­ship and trav­el­ling ex­pe­ri­ences with my daugh­ter,.

I’d be tempted to send cash. I’ve been a jour­nal­ist for a long time. I con­sider my­self wary and tech-savvy. I’m not gullible, I’m not stupid, I have been work­ing on Raw Deal cases long enough to be pretty street-smart.

But bet­ter men than me have been scammed. Any fa­ther, asked to ur­gently help his in­jured daugh­ter who is alone on the other side of the world, who he can’t im­me­di­ately con­tact, is go­ing to give con­sid­er­a­tion to send­ing money.

And that opens the gates. Once they have my bank de­tails, I am open to fur­ther ex­ploita­tion. If they can scam me, they can scam you too.

But it doesn’t have to be such an ex­otic set-up.

If your son or daugh­ter puts out a Tweet say­ing “Lunch with dad at such-and-such a restau­rant” that’s a “live up­date” re­veal­ing your house is empty at that mo­ment.

Peo­ple put pho­tos of them­selves on Face­book, say­ing “Off on hol­i­day for two weeks with mum and dad”. It is a re­al­time ad­vert point­ing out an unat­tended house or an alert that un­usual ac­tiv­ity in a for­eign coun­try won’t look sus­pi­cious on a bank ac­count.

The im­por­tant mes­sage is that it doesn’t have to be you telling the world about your ev­ery move­ment. Your fam­ily and friends may un­wit­tingly ex­pose you to dan­ger with Tweets and posts in­tended to cel­e­brate life, but that in fact pro­vide a bur­glar with a timetable for rob­bing you. What can we do about this? Rob said: “Crooks use ever more so­phis­ti­cated tac­tics to trick peo­ple into pay­ing money when they be­lieve they are help­ing out a friend or rel­a­tive.

“We need to talk to friends and rel­a­tives to pre­vent these crimes hap­pen­ing.

“Of­ten, stay­ing safe isn’t rocket sci­ence. A few prac­ti­cal steps and a dose of vig­i­lance can boost your safety im­mea­sur­ably.”

So, ask your rel­a­tives to be a bit more wary about the in­for­ma­tion they share on Face­book, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram or LinkedIn. Don’t is­sue in­vites to be bur­gled. Don’t re­veal when you are out of the coun­try.

If you are con­tacted by a friend of a friend in “an emer­gency”, be very wary.

Stop. Think. Check. Dou­ble check. Are you ex­pos­ing your­self to a po­ten­tial fraud or theft?

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