Cyber scams and cold-hearted banks

Pandemic has brought everyone closer to their computer; a relationship that was once distant and casual has become of necessity umbilical and even affectionate. If you cannot do without something, you are likely to become close to it, even trusting. Once you buy everything off the internet, especially if you have difficulty or are disinclined to go out for pandemic reasons, the computer is your friend, the internet your lifeline.

Friends do not generally cheat you and lifelines do not generally betray their sense of responsibility; the lifeline is aware of your need and meets it.

Working from Home has been a lifeline for many through the pandemic, saving businesses, giving individuals a chance to earn an honest living, but it has also furthered the interests of organized crime.

The betrayal of trust in this medium comes as a horrendous shock to naive users who do not realise the threats that the anonymity of the internet presents.

The full horror of the experience of an elderly woman described in the Guardian on 2 October can be scarcely imagined. Crooks masquerading as stockbrokers used an initial offer–  that was too good to be true — to buy £1000 worth of BP shares, as a lever to extract from the lady’s account almost £160,000.

The woman’s gullibility is matched by the cupidity of the bank, HSBC,  who allowed the transactions, [after an initial hesitation when the woman told them she was paying a stockbroker to buy her shares].

The bank initially refused to repay all but the small last instalment, saying that its ‘contingent reimbursement model’ – a voluntary code outlining when defrauded customers should get their cash back – does not cover payment overseas. Given that boiler-rooms – groups of crooks typically operate from  a single location which is almost invariably overseas and in any case devoid of national identity, this looks a very weak provision.

The bank later repaid the sum lost when challenged by the Guardian.

In another case where trust triumphed over caution, an elderly man gave remote access to a ‘BT’ engineer. Over the course of a two hour call, the ‘engineer’ used the access to remove £5000 from the pensioners bank account. The bank reimbursed the individual.

Crooks online persuaded an elderly man, to set up a current account to drain money from a credit card account could not be more painful. A bank’s failure to protect a customer could be in greater evidence.

An SMS text requesting the payment of a small sum to a shipper to release a parcel [how tempting, how psychologically exploitative!] was the lever for crooks to remove almost £27,000 from an account. The recipient’s acceptance of the initial request gave the intruders the information to make a second visit where they completed the heist.

The account was emptied by a remote hand that saw how thin were the protective walls of a bank account when it had its nominal owner in their grasp.

The Guardian article reported that 106,701 cases were reported to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau over the last year. It is a substantial number but disguises many more that quite simply go unnoticed because recipients rebut the fraudsters’ advance, or succumb but are too embarrassed or too ignorant to report, or of course, because the authorities fail to record the case.

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