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Cyberscams highlight trust paradox

Anatomy of a scam: business e-mail compromise timeline (Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Trust in our institutions and in each other has been in decline since the 1970s, according to much research. This applies to governments, politicians, businesses, religions, media and related information, work colleagues and peer groups.

So, readers, if we are so cynical about legitimate institutions, individuals and their actions, please tell me why we are so ready to believe what scammers tell us, write to us, text us, and ask us to do in highly unusual financial terms. For example:

• Answering anonymous calls from scammers, believing what they say and then withdrawing large sums of money in cash

• Opening phoney e-mails because we think we might have won something, then having our computers hacked or bank accounts siphoned off

• Downloading photographic files from old friends without checking with them first, independently

• Listening to phoney sales pitches about ridiculously high investing returns, and then without doing any research, taking the bait

It doesn’t make any sense!

Maybe It is not such a shame that the virtue of trust has gone.

The only thing left in the trust equation is to trust ourselves in our decision-making processes.

The caveat – you have to be constantly aware of your financial and digital environment.

Money management has become particularly susceptible to fraud, creating even more reasons not to trust anyone.

Be ever alert, ever suspicious, forget about trust completely, until you can independently verify for yourself that a transaction, a person, an institution is legitimate.

Again, I will take on the cheerleader role in pushing financial education. If you don’t keep up with what is happening in the financial world, you will end up placing your trust in a fraudulent scheme or individual, and possibly get burnt.

You are thinking: is it really necessary for me to be so negative?

Yes. Cyber thieves are among the most evil geniuses among us.

Scammers using the elements of familiarity and surprise, will take advantage of a situation. They focus on your most vulnerable emotions, when you are not thinking with that evolutionary common sense that we all possess.

Even trusting in your skills does not always work.

Readers, the CBS 60 Minutes show of last Sunday illustrates the dangers. An ethical hacker scammed a 60 Minutes staffer to show how easy digital theft is. The show demonstrated two stunning cloning scams.

In the first scam, Rachel Tobac, chief executive officer of data protection firm Social Proof Security, demonstrated to online viewers – how she was able to obtain the passport information of Sharyn Alfonsi, the CBS correspondent, from her assistant Elizabeth, with a simple phone call.

In less than five minutes, using artificial intelligence and clips from television, Ms Tobac cloned Sharyn Alfonsi’s voice, found her phone number on a business networking website, then demonstrated how Elizabeth, a very tech-savvy assistant, fell for the wholly believable scam.

“Anybody can fall for what Elizabeth fell for,” Tobac said. “In fact, when I do that type of attack, every single time, the person falls for it.”

Seniors have lost the most money to scammers. Cyber con artists are using artificial intelligence, widely-available apps and social engineering to target parents and grandparents.

60 Minutes featured a group of brave seniors, grandparents all, who volunteered to demonstrate how they had been scammed in losing thousands of dollars just by taking care of who they thought were their loved family relatives.

Scammers have such an easy time filtering social media accounts. We are a treasure trove of information: sharing too obvious display of names, ages, other personal data, addresses, phone numbers, pet names, schools we attended, links to family members, and your birthday, we give scammers all the information they need to guess your password or answer your security questions in login situations.

The grandparents’ stories were disheartening and similar in six areas.

The grandchild was in trouble and did not want their parents notified or said they could not be reached.

The grandchild needed money urgently to solve a serious problem: for example, they hit a pedestrian in a car accident, they needed a lawyer, etc. Otherwise, they were going to jail.

The money could not be delivered the usual way. It had to be cash in an unmarked envelope – handed to a “courier”!

They were even instructed to tell their bank cashier that the money was for home improvement, if they were asked for the reason for such a large cash withdrawal.

FBI scams and protections

The FBI has issued numerous alerts and has an extensive website exclusive for cybersecurity, listing the ever-evolving scams, hacks, destructive malware, ransomware, and more by cybercriminals.

In just one example of a business e-mail compromise category, scammers duped employees into transferring money, executive personal information, payroll data and more by using artificial intelligence to impersonate a CEO or high-level executive voice, or their e-mail.

Versions of these scenarios below happened to real victims and in each case, thousands – or even hundreds of thousands – of dollars were sent to criminals instead.

• A “vendor” the company regularly deals with sends an invoice with an updated mailing address

• A “company CEO” asks her assistant to purchase dozens of gift cards to send out as employee rewards. “Phoney She” asks for the serial numbers so she can e-mail them out right away.

• A mid-level executive answers a call from his “boss” who requests immediate transfer of a significant amount to a “new account”.

Each case is fake: the vendor is phoney, the CEO and the boss are cloned voices.

Remember, never trust. Always independently verify with your legitimate bank, financial institution, government, retailer, health provider, relative, friend, just about everyone!

Hang up on that caller.

Don’t open those phishing e-mails.

Verify your financial adviser credentials online and with the purported institutions.


FBI: Common scams, business e-mail compromise, https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/business-email-compromise

Our World in Data: How do countries around the world compare in terms of interpersonal trust? https://ourworldindata.org/trust#how-do-countries-around-the-world-compare-in-terms-of-interpersonal-trust

Martha Harris Myron is a native Bermuda islander with US connections, author, YouTube creator, Google News Contributor, and a retired qualified international financial planner. Contact: martha.myron@gmail.com

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Published May 27, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated May 27, 2023 at 7:32 am)

Cyberscams highlight trust paradox

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