Friday, February 09, 2007

Cyber Crime - A Look Behind The Scenes

By Coenraad De Beer

One evening Victor Victim sits in front of his computer, downloading his latest e-mails. He gets an e-mail with a subject line reading "CONGRATULATIONS YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WON 1.5 MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS". Victor can't believe his eyes and immediately opens the e-mail to see what it is all about. The sender, Mr. Scammy Scammer, requests a lot of personal information including his banking details, in order to transfer the funds to Victor's bank account. Victor is so amazed by the simplicity of the process that he immediately hits the reply button to send Mr. Scammy Scammer the information he requested.

The next morning Victor cannot wait to see if Mr. Scammer replied. He is really impressed to see that Mr. Scammer replied in a timely manner and hastily he opens the e-mail to see when the funds will hit his bank account. To Victor's disappointment he discovers that he needs to transfer $1500 to a foreign location through a money transfer service called Western Union. Victor doesn't have this amount of money on hand and decides to forget about the whole thing. He deletes all the e-mails from Mr. Scammer with disgust and goes to work.

On the other side of the world is Mr. Scammer waiting for a reply from Victor. A week goes by without a reply from Victor and Mr. Scammer realises that Victor did not fall for his scam. He decides to call his friend Phishy Phisher, an expert designer of phishing scam e-mails. Mr. Scammer tells his friend about Victor and sells his information to Mr. Phisher for $300. This may seem like a generous offer but Mr Scammer does business with Mr. Phisher on a regular basis and sells him the information of all the victims who were unwilling to fall for his scam. And even if he scammed the person successfully, he sells the information anyway. Mr. Phisher gives Mr. Scammer a further 20% of the funds he steals from bank accounts compromised with his phishing scam e-mails.

Two weeks later Victor receives a notification from his bank, informing him that they performed a scheduled software upgrade to their online banking system. They urgently request that Victor visits their web site to confirm his banking details. Failing to do so before the end of the week will result in a temporary suspension of his online banking facilities. He wonders why they need to confirm his details, but eventually click on the link provided in the e-mail. Victor does a lot of online banking and cannot afford to loose online access to his bank account. Unfortunately Victor did not take a good look at the URL, failing to realise that he was taken to a fake web site looking like the one he normally use for his online banking transactions. He enters his bank account number and pin and hit the submit button. A page appears within seconds informing Victor that his bank account details have been verified. "Wow, that's fast!" Victor says to himself and logs out of the online banking system.

Three days later Victor tries to withdraw cash from the ATM. The system simply tells him that he has insufficient funds. "That's impossible", says Victor, "I always have money in my bank account." Victor goes to his bank manager to find out what the problem is. His bank manager asks him whether he received an e-mail requesting confirmation of Victor's banking details. Victor confirms this and tells the bank manager that he thinks it is a stupid way of confirming a client's details. The bank manager explains to Victor that this is a phishing scam e-mail and that no bank ever sends e-mails like that to their clients. He also explains how the scam works and that the people behind the e-mail are responsible for the withdrawals from Victor's bank account. The bank is unfortunately not responsible for this breach and cannot compensate Victor for the financial loss. An angry, shocked and disappointed Victor heads home to get some sleep, maybe he will wake up tomorrow realising that this is all just a bad dream.

In the mean time Mr. Phisher decided to contact his colleague Mr. ID Thief. Mr ID Thief is an expert in Identity Theft and often buys personal information of scammed victims from Mr. Phisher and Mr. Scammer. A month later Victor goes through his mail only to find statements and bills for several credit cards, personal loans and retail credit accounts all opened in his name. To make things even worse, each account's credit limit has been fully utilised. The personal loans are settled in instalments and the other accounts have to be settled before the end of the month. Mr ID Thief used Victor's identity to open these accounts in Victor's name and after that he utilised and withdrew all the cash from these accounts. Victor slowly starts to become overstressed about all his financial problems, giving him sleepless nights. Eventually he loses his job because of poor work performance. The debt collectors start to take possession of Victor's personal belongings to settle his debt and in the end he has to move in with his sister just to have a roof over his head. Victor is declared insolvent and his name is placed on the credit bureau's black list of insolvent people. This makes it impossible for Victor to apply for a loan or any kind of credit.

Another month goes by and Mr. Sydney Syndicate from Russia is waiting for his agents to tell him how much money he made during the last couple of months. Mr. Scammer, Mr. Phisher and Mr. Thief are all working for Mr. Syndicate, stealing money from hundreds of people every month. They are allowed to keep 30% of the money stolen from the victims, the rest belongs to Mr. Syndicate and has to be transferred to Russia. The problem is, all the money they stole so far has grown to quite a large amount and cannot be transferred to Russia without the government officials asking some uncomfortable questions. So Mr. Scammer has to think of something to get all this money to Russia. Mr. Scammer comes up with a great idea.

Depressed Victor Victim sits in front of his sister's computer downloading his e-mail. He gets an offer from a very large company to act as the company representative in the United States. Victor is really excited, because he needs a job and the money desperately. The best of all he only needs to deposit cheques from U.S. clients, keeping 10% of the amount for himself and transferring the remaining 90% to the headquarters of the company through Western Union Money Transfer. The company looses money when they have to wait for cheques from the U.S. to clear in their country and need to follow this method in order to speed up the cash flow of their business. Victor does not think twice about this opportunity. He immediately completes the application form and sends it back to the company. The next day he receives a reply from the company informing him that his application was successful and first cheque to be deposited is already on his way.

Two days later he receives a cheque for $1500. He deposits the money into his bank account and waits for the cheque to clear. He keeps $150 for himself, withdraws $1350 and sends it to the headquarters of the company somewhere in Russia through Western Union Money Transfer, exactly like they told him to do. Victor can't wait for the next cheque to arrive. Another cheque arrives a week later, this time a whopping $20000. Victor follows the same routine earning him another $2000. A third cheque arrives for $2388.89. But Mr. Scammer has earned the trust of Victor by now and Victor does not wait for the funds to clear before withdrawing the 90% for the company. Victor withdraws the 90% ($2150 in this case) from his bank account and sends it off to Russia. Only this time the cheque doesn't clear and bounces. Victor looses all his money again and never hears from the company again. Two months later federal agents arrest Victor for money laundering and put him in jail for five years.

Mr. Syndicate is very pleased with his agents, they have served him well. Mr. Theft decides to sell Victor's e-mail address to Mr. Spammy Spammer, because the e-mail address if of no use to him anymore. Mr Spammy Spammer constantly sends Victor spam e-mails about stock quotes, online medications, pornography, business opportunities and instant university degrees.

When Victor finally got out of jail after 5 years he returned to his sister's home with the hopes of finding a job soon. But being blacklisted with a criminal record is not going to make things any easier for him. Later that evening he sits down in front of his sister's computer to download some e-mails. His sister downloaded his e-mails for him while he was in jail and stored them in a separate folder. He almost fell of the chair when he saw thousands of junk e-mails, scams and unsolicited advertisements that came through while he was gone. Victor decided to close his e-mail account and sworn never to use an e-mail account ever again.

This may be excessively exaggerated case of online fraud, but it clearly demonstrates what can happen to you after replying to a cyber scammer appearing to be completely harmless. It all starts with a trivial thing like your e-mail address landing in the wrong hands. It may not always be that easy for scammers to steal your money or commit Identity Theft, but you always walk the risk of financial loss if you don't take care of your personal information. Your personal information is your identity and your identity is a valuable asset to cyber scammers. Be vigilant, don't become a victim of cyber fraud.

About the Author
Coenraad is webmaster and founder of Cyber Top Cops, leaders in Internet security, prevention of online fraud and educating users against online scams and malicious software. Educate yourself with examples of real hoaxes, spam e-mails and scams send to real people.

No comments: