‘Remain vigilant and do not give any personal details’ Cybercrime unit

Sergeant Joseph Louis Xerri from the Police Cyber Crime Unit

Last Updated on Thursday, 3 June, 2021 at 9:01 am by Andre Camilleri

‘Brexit has been a perfect opportunity for fraudsters’

Speaking to the Malta Business Weekly, Sergeant Joseph Louis Xerri from the Police Cyber Crime Unit urged caution regarding a spate of scams, which has seen over 200 victims in the last three weeks.

“Unfortunately, it is a crime on the rise, especially with increasing advances in technology. Fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated than ever,” explained Xerri. “The local victims include both individuals and businesses, with the average amount extracted from their accounts ranging between 800-1800 euros. So far, the total stolen amount is in excess of 100,000 euros.

In a statement, police explained that they first began receiving reports of the scam in April, which sees scammers pose as companies and send out either a text message or e-mail informing the victim that they have received a package.

Fraudsters have also managed to maximise recent changes in the postal service because of Brexit, imposing custom tariffs on the administrative fee.

“One popular scam we have seen is imitating postal delivery services, claiming you have a parcel waiting. Once the victims click on a link provided, they are presented with a fake website imitating the postal operator and the victims are asked to enter sensitive details, such as credit card details and passwords. The administrative fee is usually a small amount of money of about € 1.60. However, fraudsters immediately use this information to take a much larger amount.”

Scams are not just e-mails, described Xerri. “Fraudsters have various modus operandi, from leaving convincing voicemails to SMS and e-mails.This week’s latest scam regards a voicemail message impersonating the Malta Police Force, informing the recipient that they have been involved in a crime. Note, the police would never leave a voice mail and ask for such personal details.”

The police have issued a warning about scam calls being made via local numbers claiming to be from the Malta Police Force and asking people to give their e-id information and/or informing them that an arrest warrant has been issued in their name. The pre-recorded message then directs the person receiving the call to press “1” and follow additional instructions.

Asked what to do if you are not sure if a message is legitimate or not, Xerri replied, “Firstly, do not click on any links or give any personal information. Then call the company the message is claiming to be to verify the communication. Do not use the numbers or details in the message. Look for the official numbers externally via an internet search or contact them via social media.”

Key red flags include typos or signs the message has been translated poorly from another language. Reversed characters or e-mail addresses with very similar spelling to the original senders, but perhaps an extra letter or an alternative ending, ie .com instead of com.mt. Look out for lack of personalisation in the address of the e-mail such as ‘Dear clients’, suspicious attachments or links, and a general sense of urgency. “Remember, legal companies do not request your personal details via e-mail”, added Xerri.

Regarding where these scams are originating from and what is being done to tackle them, Xerri continued,

“We are working hand in hand with our foreign counterparts and also with Europol and Interpol to fight these crimes and identify patterns in their nature. Collaborative working is essential. As with any crime, we must try to remain one step ahead, and we are doing so with exceptional ongoing training and effective communication, both locally and internationally. Most of the scams are originating from non-EU countries. Fraudsters make the most of current affairs, Brexit being one where customs fees are new, to prey on their victims.”

“If you or your business do fall victim to such a scam, contact your bank immediately and file a report with us at the cybercrime unit. One can call or file a report online” The Cyber Crime Unit can be contacted by telephone on (+356) 2294 2231 or on e-mail address computer.crime@gov.mt

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