Coming to a computer near you - rogues and phishers

23:00, Feb 15 2013

Throwing your doors open to the virtual world brings many benefits.

You can save time, money and explore as many information highways and byways as your imagination allows.

But it also brings some uninvited strangers with exotic names - scammers, spammers, phishers, hackers - or, in everyday languag, just plain crooks.

Where they once travelled town-to-town with snake oil, now they can reach any corner of the globe, using increasingly sophisticated online techniques.

A newspaper throws it doors open wider than most and receives hundreds of emails every day.

It's astonishing to see how many are from overseas scammers still trying it on with elaborate stories.


For example, "Mrs Sarah Powell" writes from a London hospital intensive care unit with a dying wish for the lucky reader to distribute her and her late husband's $US10million to charity.

Of course, you will get to keep a few million for your efforts in exchange for just a few personal details and no doubt a few thousand dollars to "unlock" the fund.

The "ailing" Mrs Powell starts her email with: "Please forgive me if my plea sounds a little strange or unbelievable to you."

What is unbelievable is that anyone could still be taken in by these schemes.

Besides applying the "too good to be true" filter, there is the fundamental question of why anyone would choose a stranger on the other side of the world to inherit their fortune.

These cold-call emails are at the unsophisticated end of the shyster spectrum; others go for the mask of respectability .

These include phishers whose bait is posing as a respectable organisation such as a bank that asks customers to upgrade details to obtain passwords and credit card numbers.

A more novel ruse, exposed yesterday, has been directed at users of adult websites who receive a fine notice purportedly from New Zealand police for accessing porn.

It goes with the territory that scammers play on human weaknesses - guilt, greed, loneliness.

Vulnerable romantics lost $674,000 from romance and online dating scams in the year to August, part of an estimated $450 million a year lost by Kiwis to scams. That figure is almost inevitably underdone because many don't like admitting they have been taken in.

The message from cyber safety experts is that we are just not careful enough with our money. We need to ask more questions and do more checks.

While we can improve our own defences, the events of this week have shown that large corporates are not immune.

Thousands of Telecom customers had their Xtra accounts compromised after hackers exploited a security flaw in its email provider Yahoo.

The attack saw emails sent to the contact lists of affected Xtra account holders with a link to a website asking for personal details including credit-card numbers.

Some had the added threat of scammers phoning them pretending to be from Telecom and offering to provide assistance to change their account passwords.

The episode highlights the dangers lurking in the virtual undergrowth for big and small players.

The digital revolution has brought new opportunities for everyone, including the scammers who now have an array of powerful tools to more easily get a foot in the door.

Be careful out there.

The Nelson Mail