Cyberfraud: It’s not just Nigerian lotteries

John Osbon - May 14, 2013

It might be easier to take cyberfraud seriously if the emails were not so pitifully absurd and full of grammar gaffes. You know the ones, promising fantastic windfalls (“you are the sole hair”), ridiculous sums (“…of $650 million USAmerica dollars”) and laughable requests (“if please you just must send us your…”).

Nobody (well almost nobody) would fall for those scams. But they are just the tip of a giant, despicable, and surprisingly sophisticated iceberg.

What’s really going on?

The real threat today is the growth of wire fraud – the compromise of identity and login credentials to move money out of an account into criminal hands.

The fantastic emails (inheritance, confirm package delivery, bank credential update, IRS inquiry, and so on) are in many cases simply covers to get an unwitting victim to reveal a tiny piece of information (like an email, first name, last name, login ID, etc.) or open a door for malicious software (“click here”) that can compromise your information.

Like all of you, I don’t knowingly respond in any way to any of these email ploys, although some of them look very realistic.

But email is not the only tool for fraud. I recently started getting random calls to my home and my office from very pleasant sounding people, posh English accent in one case, asking such simple, innocuous questions (“Is your first name John?”) and apologizing for bothering me as they tried to verify my last name, my address, my phone number, anything.  Are these people idiots, I thought?  No, it was cyberfraud in practice, and it’s organized, persistent and relentless.

Once enough pieces of the puzzle have been acquired, the fraudsters can request bogus wire transfers, take over control of your accounts, and basically turn your life into a nightmare.

Once gone, the money is virtually impossible to recover

Meet Tobey, or better yet, don’t…

Cyberfraud may seem primitive and naïve, until you understand that there are literally global phone and email banks of people at work. Like Tobey’s organization.

Tobechi Onwuhara, aka Tobey, an accused master scammer long wanted by the FBI, is a prime example of a successful scam artist. Educated, well-spoken, with no accent, Tobey and his organization will takes months to collect enough information on a single person to execute online wire transfers.  Alleged to have defrauded the financial industry of tens of millions of dollars, Tobey has just been arrested overseas and extradited.

What Fidelity is doing

I refreshed my cyberfraud knowledge by recently attending an online presentation by Fidelity (primary custodian for Osbon Capital clients) on “The Evolving Cyber Fraud Threat.” I must say I was pretty surprised by what I learned, but also reassured that there is a lot of help available.

Fidelity would be an obvious target for criminals, and has invested proactively in building formidable defenses to protect accountholder funds. So, not to worry, just be aware.

I like Fidelity for many reasons, but chief among many is its redundant rules-based systems for money movement.  Unless instructions are absolutely PERFECT and within the rules, money will not move in Fidelity. It’s almost comical, but I have had to resubmit wire requests for missing punctuation.  What may seem like an annoying, small-minded obsession with detail is actually Fidelity’s protection system at work.

Furthermore, as a boutique advisor, I know all of my clients and their financial habits.  So if something out of the ordinary happens (“send $25,000 to London this weekend”) my radar activates immediately.

Don’t worry, don’t respond, just stop…

There is no reason for undue worry about being a victim of cyberfraud. Substantial protection is built in to Fidelity and Osbon Capital systems on your behalf.

However we are all responsible to be alert, aware, inquisitive and cautious. If you ever have any question or doubt about any combination of online, phone and financial activity, it’s worth just stopping, not acting, thinking, waiting, and asking questions. Erring on the side of caution can only help to thwart the next Tobey.

 

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