The digital era is good for most people. But it is beyond good for con artists. The internet’s famous ability to connect everyone, everywhere, makes it ideal for scammers: they can find victims in a dozen countries, transfer the money they steal through a dozen further countries, and most importantly, remain completely anonymous while they’re doing it.
Dot.Con goes inside the writhing underworld of online scams. We see just how prolific and inventive the cybercriminals are. Interpol says it is a trillion dollar a year crime. We witness the three-way dance of crooks, cops and victims. We talk to researchers and authorities who are only now gaining an understanding of the psychology at work in the most effective scams. We’ll see how Canadians can fight back, in recommended and definitely not recommended ways.
Dot.Con focuses on social media – the heart of the problem, in a number of ways. If all con games begin with a little knowledge about the victim – just consider what a treasure trove all those tweets and facebook updates can become if they fall in the wrong hands. Canadians are willingly telling the world where they live, where they work – when they are home or away, and surprisingly often- exactly what the answers are to their ‘secret’ security questions.
Dot.Con leads us through the most common online scams in operation these days. So we meet a victim of a dating website scam … a con artist pretends to be Mister Right at an online matchmaking site, takes his time building up his victims’ trust – and then takes their money and runs. How often do victims of this crime come forward? Best guess is one time in twenty. The shame and hurt is overwhelming. It’s just too great for most victims to cope with. For the police who investigate these crimes, romance scammers induce particular disgust.
Dear Sir, SEEKING YOUR IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE. Please permit me to make your acquaintance in so informal a manner. This is necessitated by my urgent need to reach a dependable and trust wordy foreign partner. This request may seem strange and unsolicited but I will crave your indulgence and pray that you view it seriously…
Meet a Canadian victim of the classic 419 scam…and chat with Will Ferguson, author of the bestseller about that crime and its fiendish history. Named after Nigerian criminal code 419 – which is what the scammers are violating, we get a look deep into the psychology at play when trusting victims buy into emails that promise millions in reward in return for help transferring a fortune out of Lagos, or Baghdad, or any other bogus bank account locations.
The internet has also breathed new life into the old ‘grandmother scam’. Crooks can now google senior’s buildings, get every phone number listed at that address, and start making their ‘grandchild in distress ‘ phone calls. If the criminals are feeling really ambitious- they can even comb facebook for young people’s posts and shoutouts about their beloved grannies. That can help scammers improve their stories with convincing details…overshared information that is there for the taking. So unsuspecting gran gets a call one day “Help! It’s me, your favorite grandson! I wrecked a rental car at a wedding in Vancouver granny! I was one beer over the limit and now I’m in jail. Don’t tell Dad he’ll kill me! Lawyer says he can get the car rental place to drop all the charges but he needs $3412.17 right now before the court proceedings! Granny can you lend me the money?”
And it’s not just regular folks getting bilked. Banks are falling prey too – hoaxsters are impersonating legitimate customers, using electronic banking to transfer entire accounts overseas. The Dot.Con talks with one of Canada’s leading forensic accountants – a corporate fraud hotshot – who herself was the victim of an identity theft that saw half a million in mortgages taken out in her unsuspecting name!
It’s not all about the money, either – Nev Schulman – whose documentary ‘Catfish’ shed a light on the ultra strange – and still growing – trend for people to assume fake and fantastic identities online. From a relatively benign desire to be idealized and loved…to the pernicious creation of troubling hoaxes: fabricated stories about children fighting cancer, brave bloggers in war zones, lovers of the rich and famous…the Dot.Con digs into these and other internet scams to try and learn how and why these deceptions are perpetrated.
Dot.Con goes to England, where online vigilantes have turned the tables on scammers…Using exactly the same techniques the con artists do, they fight back at their would-be tormenters with a gusto that is both hilarious and deadly serious. Police love what they do – but stop short of recommending we try and copy them. And we see what victims of internet scams around Canada and the world can do to protect themselves from any further abuse, and to bring the scammers to justice.
This is a golden era for scammers, and Dot.Con documents it.