Online scams: You can never be too careful
By Edwin Yapp December 4, 2012
- Online confidence artists ups the ante on unsuspecting victims through social engineering
- Consumers must educate themselves and develop a cynical mind, questioning everything
Periscope by Edwin Yapp
LAST week, my colleague Gabey Goh wrote a story on how some con artists scammed a woman of her savings using social engineering methods.
While this is not the first of such cases -- and certainly won't be the last -- it does bring out some important considerations and lessons that all of us should take note of.
In this digital age, so much has been made of how we live in an increasingly dangerous cyberworld, where our identities can be mined, stolen, replicated and misused.
We are constantly being bombarded by the message that we need to be more secure in our online banking transactions, vigilant with our usernames and passwords for our multiple online accounts, and to not reveal too much in our online social media encounters.
These are all valid and good points. But sometimes, as we focus too much on this, I feel we could miss the woods for the trees.
In the story, Sheena Moses thought she was a victim of identity theft. This led her to make certain transactions at the ATM, which inevitably led to her losing her money. While she was pretty vigilant of the possibility of being a victim of identity theft, it was ironic that it was this caution that led her to fall victim to the actual scam.
This case has laid bare for us to see that scammers today are no longer preying on vulnerable victims with the old and primitive "Nigerian Scam," where letters were purportedly sent by some businessmen based in the African continent, and how they would promise to double or even triple your investment in the shortest periods possible.
Fact is, scammers are confidence artists and have become extremely sophisticated, blending their methods by preying on people's ignorance as well as their fear. In this case, it was clear that the fear of being manipulated by the initial identity theft and the confidence and professionalism of the people who spoke to Moses were what led her to act.
These people are skilled individuals who don't only use both cyber and psychological methods to manipulate their would-be prey into acting the way they want. With these guys on the loose, the truth is that we can no longer focus on just being aware of cyber scams but we all have to be aware about how these confidence artists work.
The first thing we can do is to develop a healthy dose of cynicism and be suspicious of anything that has to do with our banking and online accounts. For example, if and when we receive such calls from people, never trust them as you can never be too sure who is on the other side of the phone.
It’s also good to note that banks don’t contact you directly via e-mail to get you to change details on your accounts. They may call you, but if they do, the best thing for us to do is to not act on impulse although what they say may sound sophisticated and believable.
In short, when in doubt, don’t act.
In fact, when faced with some email or call you might have received from a perceived trusted source of information, say from a bank, it’s always good to double-check personally with that source of information as an e-mail or social networking message or even a call can be easily faked. This is especially true if strangers were to contact you.
Always remember the golden rule: When there is something out of the ordinary, check, re-check, and re-check again. Go to the source itself face-to-face, if you have to.
Lastly, no one can say that he or she is safe from this or claim ignorance to the fact that these things do happen. Get yourself educated as we can't hide behind the excuse that's it's too complicated to learn about such things.
At the end of the day, we must realize that while scammers are getting more sophisticated, we too have the power to gear up against such threats by taking pre-emptive steps to protect ourselves.
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