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CEO's Ruminations: Fraud Investigation & Prevention

As I tucked into my first glass of champers on yet another long-haul flight to somewhere to do something hopefully important, I began to contemplate recent complaints from clients who have been the victims of “scams”.

To say I have assisted many clients battling against the most successful scams running on the planet may be a British euphemism. If a scam has been perpetrated, I have had the sad occurrence to seek redress for the victim(s).

As an aside, whether any form of Nigerian wickedness (419 letter fraud, dating/romance, Western Union, etc) or modern cyber-phishing, I remain perplexed at the longevity and success of these deceptions. I think it fair to say my surprise requires some soul-searching by the victims and is well-beyond my ambit as a simple sleuth.

Nevertheless, I am more interested in addressing the emotional, financial and reputational issues that often rear their ugly heads when a client falls prey to this insiduous form of conduct. Homer, the Greek poet famous for penning The Iliad and The Odyssey, summed up my feelings on the subject when writing “Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.”

Given my disdain for these characters, I am positive you would expect I-OnAsia to attack with a passion these matters.

We roll up our sleeves and get dirty! Legal, of course! However, we take the position that to win against such adversaries often requires what one might call “aggressive” tactics.

Simply stated, we are ready, willing, able and dedicated both to preventative as well as curative action for the victims.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Benjamin Franklin

Ah, the uber-polymath of the 1700s, perhaps best known for his face adorning the USD100 note, was an uparalleled visionary. I have no doubt he may have anticipated these issues, which are global in ethnicity and nationality, despite the modern state of Nigeria not being formed until the 19th century.

First, I think it useful to itemize some of the more popular and long-running scams in an effort to provide, free of charge, “an ounce of prevention”. According to many non-government and government websites, the super-scams include, but certainly are not limited to, those detailed below.

§ Phishing (SMS version is smishing) is an attempt to obtain sensitive information like username, password, bank details, the details of staff in a position to transfer funds.

§ Nigerian letter frauds (419, which is the country code for Nigeria) combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed, or e-mailed, from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author, supposedly a government official, is trying to transfer illegally out of the country.

§ Commercial fraud often combines any one of these scams along with the stolen money being used (a) to buy real products from legitimate manufacturers, (b) products are then sold on to unknowing buyers and (c) the purchase monies is sent to the seller’s account and thereafter withdrawn in cash or transferred through some other mechanism to the fraudster (bitcoin?).

§ Malware is, as the name implies, is software that is intended to damage or disable computers and often is accidentally downloaded when an innocent employee clicks on an email sent from a seemingly reliable person who, in fact, is a fraudster.

§ Telemarketing fraud occurs when you send money to people you do not know personally or give personal or financial information to unknown callers.

§ Lottery fraud sees the victim being told that he has won a lottery, prize or sweepstakes and that money must be sent to cover the taxes or fees on the winnings. The victim may receive a check for part of the winnings and once the check is deposited and money is sent, the check bounces.

§ Romance/dating scammers spend their day trolling web sites and chat rooms for contact emails, and then send off thousands of fraudulent letters and emails awaiting the victim’s replies that result in no love, plenty of heartbreak and usually financial loss.

§ Social networking is when a cybercriminal accesses your social media accounts, and those of your close friends and family. Useful information for highly targeted pitches usually involving requests for money.

§ Tax scams involves a victim being contacted by someone claiming to be from a governmental agency saying that money is owed for taxes, and it must be paid immediately to avoid arrest, deportation or suspension of driver’s license/passport.

When I add “etc” to this list, I mean ETCETERA as the list is never-ending!

Second, now that you have an incomplete laundry list of potential scams, please defend yourself. Why? If not for any other reason, then how about the fact things are not going to get better!

One noted expert recently commented regarding identity theft via phishing scams that “Police don’t have time, the FBI won’t care unless it’s a lot of money or kids involved and then they are overwhelmed. The best you can do is put credit freeze and a hold on things and hold on tight. This is going to get worse.”

In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Police recorded 653 cases of cybercrimes in 2005, which was the first year it began tracking such offences. By 2016, the number of cases reached 5,939 in 2016 and resulted in HK$2.3 billion of losses to the victims!

Third, if you are the victim of a scam, you must act QUICKLY. Once the money is sent, identity is stolen, etc (there goes that abbreviation again), you have a matter of hours to respond. The longer your wait, the greater likelihood you will never see your money again, your identity will be irreversibly lost and the etc will become your first, middle and last name FOREVER! Although we support law enforcement’s efforts and we know lawyers work hard to achieve their clients’ objectives, both parties are hampered by various important roadblocks that require time and are well-known to the fraudsters. Sadly, time is of the essence and not on your side. We are faster!

Finally, is all hope lost? As Martin Luther King Jr eloquently stated, albeit in a very different context, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” If we are immediately contacted, we have the global network, high-level contacts and clear, no roadblock-vision to attack the problem and sally forth in more than just a hopeful manner. The old saying “it is not what you know, but who you know” shines brightly in these situations. Suffice it to say, we know a lot, but we know even more useful people.

Frightened? You should be. Having said that, I-OnAsia is a phone call away and we will act quicker than immediately…as we know the game.

In closing, I leave you to ponder the wisdom of The Buddha for a little more of that free,”ounce of prevention”:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

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