Experts predict the future of crime will be online, but are we already there?

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“What will they think of next?” we wonder in amazement, as the world’s first pancake printer automatically dispenses batter in the shape of the Eiffel Tower directly on to a griddle.

But as we welcome new technology into our lives, not every high-tech tool is as innocuous as the internet-connected Pancake Bot.

On a more sinister level, every new convenience available to the ordinary consumer is now available to criminals too.

We bank on our smartphones, purchase clothes, furniture and holidays on iPads, pursue romance and dating online, attend events via global ticketing sites and even share the smallest of details about our daily lives on personal social media profiles.

The speed of technological progress has resulted in an explosion of crimes seen as rather non-traditional, as criminals work to manipulate this new technology to their advantage.

Gone are the days of thinking, “it’ll never happen to us”, as fraud and cybercrime are now the country’s most common offences, with one in 10 people thought to have fallen victim.

This stacks up to a total of £4.6 billion stolen from British internet users last year, according to cyber security firm Norton; and although the figure is alarming, most worrying is the myriad ways that we are hoodwinked out of it.

Julie McArdle is the customer security manager at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), and has been involved in putting together the firm’s latest publication: The Little Book of Big Scams. The booklet lays bare some of the most common cyberscams seen in the UK today, in an attempt to help individuals protect themselves against the very latest online crimes.

“RBS have been supporting publications like this for a while now,” Julie said. “The thing is, you can’t just publish something like this once and be done with it. You have to constantly update the public with all the new information, new technology and new scams that criminals employ each year.

“We also release a similar book for business owners, which focuses on crimes aimed directly at small and independent businesses.

“Of course, some of the guidance they give is universal – installing good malware on your computer, for example, is a must for both individuals and businesses.”

But as Julie explains, solid internet security software won’t protect against everything.

Scam Emails

“Although well known, one of the most common scams still involves criminals contacting you pretending to be your bank,” said Julie. “Whether by phone or email, they will try to panic you into action and convince you that your account has been compromised. Using urgent language, they want you to act before you think and respond immediately.

“We need to remember that just because someone knows your name and address that doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate message.

“A real bank will never contact you out of the blue or put you in a position where you must respond instantly to an apparent security breach.”

Online Romance

Dating online is now one of the most popular ways for new couples to meet, with millions of people “swiping right” on potential new relationships every day.

Converting swipes to dates can be difficult enough, and this is not helped by the significant number of fake profiles set up by fraudsters.

They are after your money, not your love. “Criminals are devious and know to target the vulnerable,” said Julie.

“People are on dating sites because they are looking for companionship and criminals will use the vulnerability of wanting a friend or date to their advantage.

“They will play a long game and tell the victim exactly what they want to hear, building trust over a number of weeks before asking for money, gifts or even bank details.”

Recruitment Fraud

Again, vulnerable people are taken advantage of as scammers request that eager job searchers pay online fees for bogus visa checks, training or work permits. The job advert that has attracted applicants is often fake and the recruiter stops all communication once payment is received.

Information provided to fraudsters by “applicants” can also be used by criminals to open up bank accounts and loans, known as identity theft.

Identity Theft

This involves the misuse of an individual’s personal details to commit crime.

If your data are obtained by criminals, they can be used to open credit cards or bank accounts in your name as well as to gain access to your personal accounts.

“The widespread use of social media means there is lots of public information out there about individuals,” said Julie.

“I saw a page on Facebook recently which asked new mothers to comment what date their baby was due and what date it actually came.

“A lot of people use their child’s birthday as a password or Pin, so this information is actually very valuable and can be sold to criminals.

“The same thing happens with cute animal photos which ask you to share the name of your first pet – again, this is a common security question.

“Even simple things like posting lots of images of your 30th birthday party gives away your date of birth, and images of party balloons outside your house show where you live. So you can see how easy it is to build up a picture of someone online.”

Julie is also keen to point out that the notion younger people are not affected by cybercrime is entirely false. Far from being tech-savvy and shrewd, younger generations are often far too trusting of what they read online, and a sense of “they’ll never scam me” doesn’t help.

“There is a perception that it is only older people who are ever involved in scams,” Julie said.

“Of course, over-55s are perhaps more likely to accept that their bank may phone them asking to confirm personal details but the opposite is true too.

“Young people often believe everything they see online is real and are so busy scrolling they don’t think to question that this email from their bank might be fraudulent.

“Victims from all generations are often taken aback by how professional it all seems, and everyone likes to think that they won’t be taken in.

“The public often assume scams are very complex, and sometimes they are, but more often than not, it is a case of tricking you into giving out personal information by panicking you or getting you to trust them.”

Yet although more and more victims are targeted each year, it is thought that just a fraction of offences are reported to police because victims either feel embarrassed or believe little can be done to catch those responsible.

The nature of online fraud means that offenders don’t even have to set foot in the country to commit their crime, making it not only a faceless crime but also borderless.

Policing the internet is a mammoth task, but one Police Scotland is taking extremely seriously. It is encouraging victims to report any type of cyber attack, no matter how futile any attempts at justice may seem.

Speaking in the Little Book of Big Scams, chief superintendent John McKenzie, from Police Scotland, said: “The world is changing and with the ever-increasing use of technology, individuals need to be increasingly aware of the latest scams and frauds committed in both the online, ‘virtual’ world as in the more traditional ‘real’ world.

“We have witnessed real growth of online crime, scams and frauds.

“Whether by cold calls, online shopping or insecure Wi-Fi, criminals may seek to fraudulently steal your money or obtain important information which personally identifies you to ‘steal’ your identity, to commit fraud.”

And although he recommends reporting offences as soon as they happen, the superintendent is clear that vigilance is the only way to protect both your identity and your life savings.

To find a copy of the Little Book of Big Scams, pop into any RBS branch or visit www.personal.rbs.co.uk/personal/security-centre/fraud-guide.html

For more on business-related cybercrime, see the Press and Journal Business supplement on Monday.

CYBER DICTIONARY

Phishing

Fake emails that look legitimate, often with attachments.

Vishing

Voice phishing. An unsolicited call from a fraudster

who pretends to be from your bank, the police or any

other official company.

Smishing

Fraudulent SMS or text message from your bank or

other credible source.

Twishing

When a criminal phishes for information through

social media.

Ransomware

Downloads a virus or malware – malicious software – that corrupts computer data unless a ransom is paid.

The Dark Web

A part of the world wide web that’s only accessible by means of special software, and where scammers often buy and sell data such as lists of email addresses.

Whaling

Also known as Spear Phishing or Bogus Boss fraud, where the email address of the chief executive of a company is hacked or spoofed to persuade individuals to transfer money.

Social engineering

Manipulating people so they reveal confidential information.

Bit coin

An online digital currency

CYBER DICTIONARY

Phishing

Fake emails that look legitimate, often with attachments.

Vishing

Voice phishing. An unsolicited call from a fraudster

who pretends to be from your bank, the police or any

other official company.

Smishing

Fraudulent SMS or text message from your bank or

other credible source.

Twishing

When a criminal phishes for information through

social media.

Ransomware

Downloads a virus or malware – malicious software – that corrupts computer data unless a ransom is paid.

The Dark Web

A part of the world wide web that’s only accessible by means of special software, and where scammers often buy and sell data such as lists of email addresses.

Whaling

Also known as Spear Phishing or Bogus Boss fraud, where the email address of the chief executive of a company is hacked or spoofed to persuade individuals to transfer money.

Social engineering

Manipulating people so they reveal confidential information.

Bit coin

An online digital currency

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