Constant vigilance needed to guard against computer fraud

It’s impossible to open a newspaper without seeing another reference to cyber-fraud. There was a big focus on Talk Talk having its database hacked, but this is just the tip of an iceberg. We have to be more wary, because as one tactic comes under the spotlight another is developed and many of the ruses only appear when the number conned reaches a level that attracts publicity.

Recent coverage has been on phone scams, and to BT’s credit it has changed its exchanges so lines can no longer be held open to make people believe they’re contacting their bank. This is just one of many tactics criminals use, but the aim in each case is the same: they want us to transfer money from ours to their bank account – from which they speedily transfer it overseas before it can be recovered.

Banks wash their hands of this but are not without fault, because of the blind eye they turn to accounts opened online without identity and other checks. When these frauds happen people are effectively abandoned by their bank if the money can’t be recovered within the UK banking industry.

The message to avoid these cons is simple: banks or any other institutions will never call and say you have been a victim of fraud and need to transfer funds to another account. Nor will they ask for your passwords or other information, or offer to send a ‘courier’ because your credit or debit cards have been compromised. For any calls or emails in this vein, just put the phone down and delete the email.

Another tactic is to gain access to your computer, and from it obtain bank account and other information. This can then be used to gain access to your accounts, or more likely for identity fraud. The simple way to do this is an email with an attachment that allows the fraudster access to your computer. To avoid this, never open an attachment from someone you don’t recognise; delete it straight away, and delete it from the trash to make certain. Also, keep your virus protection up to date.

Criminals are becoming aware that we are suspicious of emails, so a new tactic is to call saying they are from your broadband provider and want to speed your internet service up. Some have worked in call centres and know how to sound legitimate. To ‘fix the problem’, with the promise of speeding up your service, they seek permission to access your computer, which involves a simple online access programme. Once in your computer they can access the whole system, securing the information they want. Again this is used to gain access to your accounts or for identity fraud.

The message is simple: no legitimate company cold calls and wants access to your computer for any purpose. If it happens, simply put the phone down.

Free wi-fi outside is another potential problem. Some people say accessing your bank is safer on a mobile device than a PC, because there are fewer virus problems, but if using wi-fi outside make sure it’s legitimate and not one being used to collect data.

Those behind these activities are imaginative. They constantly seek new ideas and know that come December farmers will have funds in their bank accounts when single payments are issued. This makes it a good time to target farmers.

Beware too of falling victim to emails saying the account where funds are to be transferred has changed and giving details of an alternative. One woman recently lost £80,000 being sent to a solicitor because of this scam.

If funds are to be transferred and there is any change of account, call before acting to make sure the change is legitimate – which is unlikely when dealing with a solicitor because of how client accounts have to be managed.

Be suspicious, be careful who you trust and you will eliminate or at least reduce your chances of becoming a victim of what is now officially the fastest growing area of crime.

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