Retailers aren’t the only ones who want your money this holiday season. Finance expert Noel Whittaker shares some of the sophisticated cyber scams you need to be on the lookout for.
Judgingby the emails I am receiving, internet scams and computer attacks are on the increase. In early December I was talking to an 82-year-old widow who I have been trying to assist to get out of a reverse mortgage with a fixed interest rate that has made her a victim of a massive break fee. Anyway, to make matters worse, she told me she had received an email from a “close friend” recommending she invest $5000 in a scheme that the friend was promoting.
Acting solely on the contents of that email she went to Westpac and deposited $5000 into the account nominated. Within a few moments the money was gone.
That $5000 represented a big chunk of her savings so she rang her friend immediately to ask what had happened. He knew nothing about the email – it was a fake and there was no way she could get her money back.
Earlier this year I was one of six people having dinner together and everybody had a story to share.
I started the ball rolling by relating the surprise I got when the Apple Wallet app on my iPhone told me a transaction had recently gone through for ‘30 Polish Zloty’ – it was obviously a cybercriminal who had somehow managed to obtain my American Express card number. Fortunately, the app picked it up, but I still had to go through the rigmarole of having my card cancelled and replaced. What this experience does show is the value of having a Wallet app, because it enables one to keep track of transactions as they occur. Otherwise, it would not have been discovered until the monthly statement arrived.
The phishers have been particularly active, with two authentic-looking emails widely circulating – one purporting to come from AGL and the other from Australia Post. The AGL one triggered suspicion at once because I don’t have an account with them, but I almost fell for the Australia Post one, which informed me that they had a parcel to deliver but it was now held at the post office because I was absent when the postman arrived.
The phishers have been particularly active…
What made me suspicious was the sub-standard English, and the fee of $2.40 per hour until collection.
These types of emails are easy to detect, because all you have to do is hover your mouse over the sender’s address and it will be obvious that the email is a scam. Unfortunately, a friend of mine did open the email, and he tells me he is now looking for a new computer as the virus destroyed his hard drive.
More serious scams came to light as our dinner progressed. The doctor related how he had recently been at a conference in America and, while he was away, his bookkeeper received what looked like an authentic email from him asking that $75,000 be transferred to a bank in Adelaide because he was considering buying a property there. It also requested that a certain email address be notified when the transfer was made.
More serious scams came to light as our dinner progressed.
This was not an unusual transaction for the doctor, and it was couched in the language he would normally use. You guessed it – they had hacked his emails, copied his writing style, and the money was siphoned from the Adelaide bank account within hours of it arriving there. He is now disputing the transaction with the bank, but they are taking the view that it could not be called fraudulent because his bookkeeper authorised it on his instructions.
The remaining guests at dinner told us about an event earlier in the year when they received a message via Facebook purporting to come from their son, who was holidaying in South America. It claimed that he’d had an accident surfing, had lost his phone and his wallet, and needed $2000 to be sent to a certain bank urgently. The parents responded, asking him to phone, but the response was that this was not possible as he no longer had a phone.
Luckily the parents are fairly street smart, and replied that they could not pay any money until there was a face-to-face video conversation. The next day the son responded to the barrage of calls they had made to his phone, and confirmed he was in good health and the Facebook communications were false.
The cyber criminals are getting smarter and smarter, which means the onus is on us to be more vigilant.
These are just a few examples that have come to my notice recently. Obviously, the cyber criminals are getting smarter and smarter, which means the onus is on us to be more vigilant. The sad reality is that that is not as easy as it seems. Please be on your guard.
Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. firstname.lastname@example.org. Seek advice from a professional before making any important financial decisions.