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Awareness best shield as cyber criminals widen net

Awareness best shield as cyber criminals widen net
6 Nov 2023 08:51

Saeed Ahmed (Abu Dhabi) - The General Command of Sharjah Police has intensified awareness campaigns against electronic fraud as electronic extortion and cyber crimes have become a societal scourge targeting all members of society. Cyber criminals have resorted to assorted means to target people, and they often succeed in deceiving people into believing in their scams.

The traps come in varied ways, from promotional offers to random phone calls from strangers posing as employees asking for personal information to complete a fake transaction.

Those who are not tech literate but eager to make quick money are more at risk of falling prey to online scams, children are often targeted via electronic games, and others regardless of age or education can be fooled into clicking a file with links for phishing and malware, making them vulnerable for online scams.

Amid the rise in cyber crimes, Sharjah Police received 351 fraud reports in the first half of 2023 compared with 177 reports in the same period of 2022, with most of the cases involving phone scams and electronic games.

Security and banking authorities warned the public not to deal with suspicious links or websites, urging them to verify the identity of the caller, and to immediately report to the security authorities if they are subjected to fraud.

Be aware

Colonel Omar Ahmed Abu Al Zoud, Director of Criminal Investigation Department at Sharjah Police, said: “In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in cybercrimes, especially reports of electronic extortion, phone scams, and also reports related to electronic games, which target children as they can be easily lured.”

The police official highlighted the importance of awareness campaigns in safeguarding community members from the dangers of cybercrimes, stressing that “prevention is better than cure”.

Al Zoud noted that by merely clicking on a suspicious link, one could lose all their financial savings and personal documents. He noted that the awareness campaign, launched for the second consecutive year, through the platform “Be Aware” includes six stations demonstrating the modus operandi of cyber criminals.

It also engages visitors in the demonstrations, offering a first-hand view of the techniques used by cyber criminals. The Colonel added: “This crime is transboundary and requires us to intensify efforts to prevent it and protect individuals,” stressing that users of smart and electronic devices should not click on suspicious links or interact with unknown individuals on social media.

He called on the public to file a report with the relevant security agencies if they are subjected to scams, fraud, or electronic extortion, so that the agencies can recover their personal accounts and take the necessary actions against the criminals.

Innovative methods

Dr.Obeid Saleh Al Maktoum, Executive Director of IFTAR Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence Consultancy, said that security officials and the concerned authorities follow traditional awareness methods that rely on publications, organising exhibitions and awareness campaigns, noting that society needs innovative and advanced methods that stand up to fraudsters, whose methods and tools have evolved significantly.

“After reviewing electronic fraud cases, we find that some of the victims are educated, who have received sufficient doses of awareness,” he added.

He pointed out that fraudsters conduct a comprehensive study of individuals to know their nationalities, age, and profile, and they try to change their methods befitting their target. The cyber security expert noted the importance of awareness campaigns, especially targeting women, children and the elderly. Dr. Obeid also highlighted the role of banks in educating the public about the dangers of online fraud, noting that banks should issue clear guidelines to their customers on the use of ATM cards.

Elaborating on electronic fraud, he said that cyber criminals blend emotional and social skills, which is referred to as “the art of mind hacking” or “social engineering”. It operates through emotional extortion, exerting psychological pressure on the targeted individual.

A citizen, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he was a victim of fraud, and over Dh8,000 was stolen from his credit card by a famous online store located outside the country that he had frequented for years. An unknown person used his name and account on the application to purchase various products. He tried to stop the purchasing process but was unable to do so.

He pointed out that the criminal took advantage of the fact that his credit card number was saved in his account with the online store. He watched the purchases being made before his eyes and immediately requested to stop the purchase, which was happening in instalments, but the store’s staff refused, justifying that the account holder was the one making the purchases, there was no suspicion, and they could not stop it.

He also reported the issue to the bank, requesting that the card be cancelled, as well as to the relevant authorities and the store, but his money was not returned. He urged all members of the community not to save their credit card numbers in applications or on websites to avoid theft.

Another citizen, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she fell prey to a scam when she clicked on an electronic link, which she thought was from an official entity as she was expecting a parcel by mail.

She received a text message from the bank notifying her of a Dh500 deduction from her account. She quickly informed the bank to cancel the card before a second transaction, estimated at Dh5,000, could take place.

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