24 December 2015

No, you haven’t won the Nigerian Lottery: Fraud, the internet and spam

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I can’t count the amount of times I’ve received emails from law firms or bank managers from overseas, intent on stealing a portion of my dead Nigerian relative’s ill-gotten gains. To be fair, I hadn’t realised I was related to so many thieving Nigerians until I got a Hotmail account. Given my ancestry is predominately from an Irish and Scottish background, you can imagine my surprise the first time I came across an email telling me my beloved uncle had died in a car crash and as his only relative I was entitled to his $300 million fortune.

Back in the day, email scams were not all that sophisticated. While most of them have not changed all that much in the decade and a half or so I’ve had my Hotmail account I’ve had a couple though in my time that made me pause. The sophistication level comes from the format. I received an email a couple of months ago that was reportedly from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The logo was right, the spelling was correct. But the return email address was at Gmail. That was the only thing that made me stop before I entered my netbank password to reset my account after an “attempted access.”

In a press release from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in July 2015 showed that Australians were still falling victim to email based scams. In the release the ACCC stated that there had already been 45,000 complaints up until July 2015, and Australian’s had fallen victim to the cost of $45 million dollars to email scams.

“Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to get your money or personal details, “ ACCC acting Chair Delia Rickard said. “Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off guard when you are not suspecting it.”

In the press release accompanying the launch of the ACCC’s Scamwatch website, there were a few tips to help you identify fraudulent scam emails.

Be alert to the fact scams exist:

Prevention is better than a cure. It always has been. I remember when I first entered the world of the Internet the first piece of advice I was given was “don’t open an email from someone you don’t know, and don’t click on anything.” Its advice I follow to this day. If you receive an email from what looks like your bank or an Australian Government Agency, always check the return to sender email address. If it’s a Hotmail, a Yahoo or a Gmail account you can be absolutely certain it’s a fake.

Know who you are speaking to:

Today it’s so easy to meet new people. Apps on your phone, websites, social media. But when you deal exclusively with someone online, all you really know is the name they give you and the photos they send. As people we have an inbuilt “auto-trust,” function. We believe people when they say they are Sam from Birmingham when in fact they’re Arthur from Latvia. Use reverse image search on Google with the photos they provide. While social media and social apps invite strangers into our electronic devices, there are still tools you can use to make sure they are who they say they are. Regardless, never share details like passwords or credit card numbers and never send money so they can bail their sweet old mum out of prison.

Delete those scam emails:

I have a rule that I don’t open any email in my personal email account if I don’t know who sent it. To be fair, my spam folder on Hotmail is pretty good. I delete it after a cursory glance to make sure it hasn’t diverted an email I need. Don’t engage with people who are trying to launch a scam. Don’t reply to them, don’t click a link and under no circumstances should you provide them with any information. Delete emails from unknown senders without even opening them.

For further information on the ACCC’s Scamwatch website, please click here to read the press release.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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