It’s one of four online scams investigated this year by the Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit, prompting new warnings to take care online – and to keep an eye out for vulnerable friends and family.
Banking customers are this week being warned to regularly monitor their account balances as fraudsters and scammers increasingly target Cook Island bank accounts.
The older woman was the victim of a so-called “romance scam” last month, in which untraceable overseas con artists prey on vulnerable people. Although the emails appeared to come from Malaysia, it’s likely they had already been routed through several countries to hide the scammer’s identity.
In another case, also last month, a middle-aged Cooks man lost $8000 in a “money mule scam” on social media, in which gullible victims are told they will be paid a large sum if they allow their bank account to be used in a cash transfer.
Earlier this year, two people narrowly escaped losing large sums in “investment scams” involving the promise of a share of $30 million.
Cook Islands senior intelligence analyst Walter Henry said authorities has been unable to find out where the scammers are from. “The single biggest reason why it’s so difficult to investigate is that it is international law enforcement groups in basically every country on the planet would have to co-operate in real time,” he said. “That is not possible.
“What you find is most of these victims are vulnerable, Bankers’ Association chairman David Street, said scammers would try various methods of defrauding anyone’s personal details and funds. These scammers are usually involved with a sophisticated network of criminals, who are becoming more creative in their approaches.
He warns customers never to open any email requesting discloser of their personal or banking details. “If you are ever asked by an unknown source to confirm your account or confidential banking details, either by email or email link, phone, via SMS, messenger or other social media, you are being targeted as a potential fraud victim. The golden rule is never give out your personal details to someone you don’t know or trust,” Street said.
One of the most basic frauds involves phishing, an attempt to obtain your details, is by disguising themselves as a trustworthy and legitimate company.
Bank of the South Pacific spokesperson Tutu Inamata said scammers and fraudsters were a huge concern. “We have to do our best to safeguard all our customers, and making everyone aware of the risks is a high priority.”
He said anyone with a bank account has the potential to be scammed and the best defence is to check your emails carefully before acting on it (such as clicking on a link) and to keep antivirus programs updated.
STAYING SAFE ONLINE
The Bankers Association has issued tips to assist with identifying a potential phishing scam and to protect private information:
· Read emails, messages or texts carefully and search for any indication of a bait in the content
· If the message is requesting logon credentials and/or personal details, do not reply
· If the message is not personally addressed to you, for example, it says ‘dear customer, hello friend or greetings’, ignore
· Many scams may have grammatical and/or spelling errors
· If the email instructs you to click on a link, do not click on the link; delete the email
· Regularly update and perform anti-virus and anti-spyware scans on your computer
If in doubt, always show caution and contact your bank.