November 13, 2012

Internet scam – a wake-up call

Tue, Nov 13, 2012

The story, reported in last Friday’s Searchlight, which gave details of how top government officials, including the Commissioner of Police, got duped in an Internet Advance Fee Scheme, should be a wake-up call not just for government officials, but for all Vincentians.

On reading the story, most people were left wondering how could this have happened, especially to persons who, because of their professional training, should possess a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to criminal activity.{{more}}

The scam was such a classic case of an Advance Fee Scam, we wonder if our law enforcement authorities pay attention to their own advice. The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), in an article entitled, “You are being scammed”, published in Searchlight on February 4, 2011, warned: “If we were to examine these claims closely, we see that although many purport to come from reputable establishments, the spelling and grammar are poor. This is not something to be expected from an overseas business that should have trained and professional staff at their disposal.” They also said: “The schemes always set a deadline for the receipt of money and constantly remind you of such …”

There were many other warning signs in the communication which stuck out like sore thumbs, but were overlooked: the date of the conference suddenly changed from October to November with no explanation; the communication for the same “high level international event” came from several different people and from different organizations; payment for hotel rooms, visas and insurance policies was to be sent via Western Union; the payment for an insurance policy bought of a company in the United States was to be sent to an individual in Senegal; the email addresses used did not have corporate or organizational domains, among other signs.

We therefore wonder how savvy are our police in relation to cybercrime and identity theft, at a time when available technology has made such crimes commonplace. In this case, the scammers not only received money, but now have in their possession vital personal information of senior members of our local constabulary, which they, the criminals, can use for their own crooked purposes. It is also ironic that the scam involved two members of our anti-human trafficking unit, as in many cases, victims of human trafficking are lured away from their homes by persons who communicate with them by means of the Internet.

At least two other senior officials within the state bureaucracy had possession of the initial invitation to the so-called conference. It appears the information was simply passed from office to office, with no one taking the time to properly examine the communication. What else could be so overlooked, which could result in much more serious consequences than mere embarassment to those involved?

It seems that the time is well past for the constabulary to be brought up to speed through exposure to on-going training in cybercrime; perhaps with the assistance of the FIU and the US Embassy in Barbados. Maybe out of this, a cybercrime unit could be established. This whole debacle strengthens the argument for the policy of inserting within the ranks of the police force individuals with specialised skills to successfully secure the nation and its citizens. Crooks who use the Internet as their platform to commit crimes are highly skilled and, of necessity, those who fight that type of crime, which is increasing at an exponential rate, need to be one step ahead.

There has been one positive outcome of this incident. The Commissioner of Police should take comfort in the knowledge that his experience and the associated embarrassment have resulted in far more Vincentians now being aware of the tactics used by these crooks in their efforts to relieve individuals and businesses of their money. His unfortunate experience achieved far more than 20 articles from the FIU could have ever done.

More information about Internet scams can be found at www.antiscam.net or at www.svgfiu.com.