NewsCrime Desk

Cyber crims use trusted brands to rob and blackmail Irish web users

Crime DeskBy Eamon Dillon
Cyber criminals are getting more sophisticated
Cyber criminals are getting more sophisticated

Cyber criminals are launching more sophisticated attacks on Irish internet users to steal people’s identities, empty their bank accounts or blackmail victims.

Based in Russia, China and Indonesia, professional gangsters are targeting victims all over the world in scams worth hundreds of millions of euro every year.

A key ploy is hijacking trusted brand names to trick people into handing over their personal details.

Blue chip companies and organisations such as Bank of Ireland, FedEx and even the Revenue Commissioners have been used to target victims.

The bogus emails also come with documents attached which, if opened, can allow software to be secretly installed on a computer or a mobile phone.

They also hack into social media sites such as Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp to spoof people with bogus information.

Cyber criminals offer software for sale to allow hackers to target specific companies. Researchers working for the Canadian government this year estimated that 159 million phishing emails are sent out every single day.

Of these, 16 million get through spam filters, 800,000 are opened, and at least 80,000 people are tricked into handing over personal information.

The fake Bank of Ireland scam (below) urges customers to urgently log on to fix some fictitious problem.

In reality, the victim is logging on to a website controlled by the scam artists who record every key pressed. They even make it look as if you made a mistake to ensure they get all six digits of a customer’s PIN to gain access to their online banking account.

The websites are almost identical to the real thing.

Once scammers have control of a bank account, they can either take whatever cash is available, but often will use it to launder cash from other criminal enterprises.

All the major banks in Ireland have been targeted by the scammers.

When the bogus email (below) from the Revenue Commissioners first made its appearance in Ireland around two years ago, it fooled a lot of people.

The clever trick behind it is in telling people they are due a modest tax rebate of a couple of hundred euro.

Users click on to a spoof website and are again fooled into handing over their personal banking details.

Revenue issued a warning statement saying it “never sends emails requiring customers to send personal information via email or pop-up windows”.

Another favourite trick is to pretend an email comes from email service providers such as Gmail or Yahoo.

Again customers are told they need to immediately change their personal details to ensure security is protected.

Directed to another spoof website, the gullible victim then hands over all the details scammers need to control that email address.

This immediately allows the scam artists to look for accounts associated with that email, then change the passwords to take control of them.

Another favourite target for hackers are online payment firms such as PayPal. The popular service goes to great lengths to warn customers that it will never ask for details in an email.

Another clue that an email is bogus is one that begins with ‘Dear User’ instead of your name.

Once in control of a PayPal account, they can run up a substantial bill on the credit card associated with the account. It can also be used to funnel illegal cash and launder it into the legitimate banking system.

The so-called cryptolocker virus is designed to lock a targeted computer and to prevent access to personal files. A window flashes up to warn a user that a fine must be paid to get an unlocking key or the files will be destroyed.

One such virus used the Garda logo to make it appear as if the user had accessed illegal websites and had incurred an official fine.

A fix was readily available to unlock computers, but many people did not have the technical ability to carry out the procedure to get rid of the virus.

Newer versions of cryptolockers are harder to crack and have been used to target businesses in which cyber-criminals demand thousands of euro to unlock files.

Spoof attacks using well-known brands have also seen hackers target reputable websites to send out real emails to customers.

In the case of U.S. recruitment firm CareerBuilder, hackers were able to get control of the company’s email sever. They used it to send emails to people who had sent in CVs.

Because the people targeted trusted the firm and were eager to hear back.