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Hackers con gap year parents

Identity theft comes in many forms. Traditionally we think of it as people getting your personal details through theft of your passport or driving licence and this information being used to clone your identity in order to take out loans and credit cards in your name or to gain access to your bank account; but with the advent of social networking there is yet more risk…

It does sometimes feel like I write and talk about the drawbacks of social networking more than I praise its uses, but with our information being available to all (let’s face it, if your bank account can be hacked it’s not overly surprising that social networks can be…) there are too many opportunities for those who would use it for criminal purposes.

There are great advantages in social networking when travelling, it means you can keep people updated about your adventures as you go; one message reaches everyone in your network. The internet is now truly worldwide, with only a few corners where access is limited; so you can remain in constant ‘contact’.

But be careful not to rely too heavily on this form of communication alone. When we run courses which look at the effectiveness of different communication styles in the messages we ‘send’, social networking tends to rank just above texting...

Messages on social networks should not replace phone calls, if not for the benefit of the person travelling, then for the benefit of the people they leave behind. A phone call provides reassurance to both that everything is ok; a text message reading ‘All ok :) bungee 2morrow. gr8 ;)’ can have the opposite effect. It is worth remembering that independent travel can sometimes be more stressful for those left behind, than those travelling.

The scam highlighted in this article relies on the lack of communication between people travelling and those left behind.

The news article made much of the implied wealth of the Hogg family, however this would likely have had little or no influence on them being chosen as victims. I imagine had the perpetrators of this ‘scam’ realised they lived on a big country estate, their demands might actually have been much higher.

The sums of money they demanded (£265 for the bribe and $300 for the taxi ride out) is a significant amount in Colombia.

The criminals do not require your bank details or your passport for this one, they just need access to your social networking page and / or email account, both easily available if you use a terminal in an internet café which they have access to.

They will spend some time reading through your posts and emails until they know a little more about you and then contact your parents using your email account with the fake story of you being arrested and a bribe being required for your release (or a similar scenario).

Often they will also warn you not to contact the FCO or local police as ‘this may lead to the local authorities having to officially charge your son or daughter and the bribe no longer being a possible option’.

To most parents a few hundred pounds is a small price to pay for the release of their child and they will without hesitation pay up, through a wire transfer; why would you not?

The criminals will have all the information they need to impersonate the independent traveller, they will go so far as to write in the same style, using the same phrases, which they gauge from previous emails and messages. They will normally include several ‘convincers’, these are pieces of information which the receiver believes only the person they are impersonating would know and so they don’t question the origin / authenticity of the message; these too will be derived from the masses of information which people openly post on the internet through social networking sites. In the case of Gavin Hogg this was a reference to a new tattoo he had recently had on his back.

Like many such scams they play on the fear and emotion of loved-ones who feel utterly helpless when a close relative is ‘stranded’ far away from help.

Identity theft and this type of impersonation are on the increase in travellers. Independent travellers must be prepared for a world where our relative wealth in the UK, makes us targets across the rest of the world.


So what can you do to protect yourself against this scam?

The first thing is prepare effectively for your travel and decide who your ‘Trustee’ is going to be. Provide them with all the information they need to back you up if things go wrong.

Our ‘Trustee system’ involves you deciding on one main point of contact (usually a parent, relative or close friend) who you trust explicitly. During our workshops we provide a list of all the relevant documents and information they will require to assist you if it all goes wrong.

The ‘Trustee’ should be given a code word to use in an emergency; a simple innocuous phrase which would not seem out of place in a message, but which would if included confirm the authenticity of the message and related emergency.

If this phrase isn’t used it can alert the ‘trustee’ to the possibility of a scam or that the threat is not real; moreover if the code is used, it confirms the threat is real and can trigger an appropriate response. 

The response should be to contact the FCO in the UK and the British Embassy in the country in question, rather than contacting the police in the country directly. If a warning has been given not to contact the FCO by the criminals, make sure that this information is passed on to the FCO, as it will allow them to act accordingly.


To view the original article Click Here

Source – www.bbc.co.uk 

Date – 23rd August 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew