Fight Back By Being Informed: Internet Scams Part 1: Fraud & Extortion


The internet has opened up many opportunities for unsavory characters to pilfer your hard earned money and personal information. We hear about the instances all the time where someone has fallen victim to a scam. The best thing we can do to be proactive and avoid ourselves or someone we care about being taken advantage of is to be informed and aware of what is happening, and what the scams look like in the land of internet fraud and phishing. In this multi-post series I will be taking a look at the scams that you need to be aware of and how you can save yourself and others from being a victim. By being informed you can take back the power.

As per Merriam-Webster the simplified definition of fraud is:

• The crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person
• A person who pretends to be what he or she is not in order to trick people
• A copy of something that is meant to look like the real thing in order to trick people

As you can see this is pretty all encompassing be it a phone call from someone posing as a canvasser for a charity, an email claiming to be from a bank or other organization, or those emails who claim someone in a foreign country needs you to save their multiple millions of dollars from being taken from them—of which you will of course retain a large portion for aiding them in such a troubling time. If each of us were to check our spam inbox right now you will likely be able to find something that is fraudulent.

Many of the fraud scams that you will come across are extortion, meaning they are designed to get the victim to part with money. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center (CAFC) part way through 2014 the CAFC had received “1936 complaints related to an Extortion pitch. 123 are classified as victims with a total reported dollar loss of $255,222.26”. That is a just under $2100 per victim if we assume the distribution of loss was divided equally among them—which I suspect it most definitely wasn’t.
There are a number of different types of scams that fall under the heading of fraud, and more specifically extortion.

Ransomware

You may have come across this or know someone who has had this happen to their computer. Scams that are considered ransomware generally use what is known as CryptoLocker malware. This malware is programming that messes with a devices normal function. In many cases, much as the name suggests the program will limit what you can access on your device under the guise of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) or another governing body such as CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) requiring you to pay a fine to unlock the device because it has been used to access and store illegal or banned material. This is just a claim meant to scare the victim and will often request payment through Bitcoin or another online means of fund transfer.

Another spin on ransomeware is the use of the CryptoLocker malware to encrypt random files on the device and then hold them hostage claiming that if money is not spent for the access key to decrypt the file it will be lost forever. I mean you could essentially just pay the ransom—I am sure the upstanding folks who have created the malware holding your information hostage can be fully trusted to make good on their end of the deal, right? Not necessarily. Although the original CryptoLocker malware has been defeated there are a number of copycats coming to the surface that function in the same way.

What’s a person to do?

  • If you were hit by the original CryptoLocker and still have some files that are encrypted by it check out DecryptCryptoLocker.com. This site can help you to crack the encryption password and recover the affected file.
  • It is advisable that you maintain a backup of your files either on an external hard disk or on a USB so that if you should happen to come across a ransomeware program you have a backup of important files that could be encrypted.
  • Time and again it is said to be wary of emails from unknown senders or that give any hint of not being legitimate. Many email servers today will warn you and flag these emails in order to further prevent malware from being able to gain access to your computer.
  • Keep your firewall and antivirus software up-to-date and in good working order. I know it can be tempting to forego an update or a scheduled scan, or at the very least put it off until later–but don’t.

You should also avoid downloading files from unknown sources, even if the file or torrent seems credible you are opening yourself up to a malware and other security risks.
Next week ‘s post will finish off looking at extortion including DDOS attacks, bomb threats, assassin’s and a growing issue all parents need to be aware of as it is affecting more and more Canadian youth.

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