Digital Legacies: Fraud

Julius Wiedemann explores the various manifestations of deceit and the threats we expose ourselves to while living in a technologically integrated society.

by Julius WiedemannPublished on : Jul 20, 2021

Since humans are humans, there is fraud. Morality has changed over millennia, but certainly this human trait has persisted. The people on earth have condemned fraud, and we have developed systems to curb it, but it is also surely going to be here forever. What is always clear is the creativity that people develop new methods to trick people. Maybe this is a genetic problem. These dynamics also happened with chimpanzees, and we are 99 per cent of their DNA. In a National Geographic article named Machiavellian Monkeys, the magazine writes that “They found that in 18 species from all the major branches of primates, the size of the neocortex predicts how much deception the species practices. Bigger brains mean more trickery.” And also, that “In fact, monkeys and apes, on average, have brains twice the size you'd predict for mammals of their body size. Chimpanzees and other great apes have particularly big brains, and they seemed to be particularly adept at tricking each other.” It seems like nature also has its faults.

The digital world offers multiple avenues for fraud to take place | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The digital world offers multiple avenues for fraud to take place Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

So it seems, we are all about deceiving others. But the digital world offers a wide range of controls so that in theory all trickery can be traced back. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. When an insurance company is dealing with millions of frauds of smaller amounts, the work it would take to go after one person wouldn’t pay the bill of lawyers and time needed to find the culprits. The more we advance with technologies, the more sophisticated trickeries become. It is wise to know whether your money and data is safe. In the United States, data breaches fluctuate up and down, but have steadily grown over a decade, with the numbers of 2018 hitting an all-time record, with over 470 million records exposed.

Personal data breaches are now a large market for hackers | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Personal data breaches are now a large market for hackers Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

There has been a dramatic increase in ransom attacks too. Hackers know what time websites are making business and roughly know how much profit companies will make. It all makes the calculation very simple. All that a hacker needs is a phone call to say that the website could be shut down at a certain period, unless protection is serviced for an amount of money.

Personal data has a huge market, and navigates from data collectors such as banks, social networks, credit cards, educational institutions, internet providers, utility companies to other vendors. The way from one to another represents a territory of vulnerability, but not only there. For instance, Reuters reported that “Morgan Stanley has disclosed that personal data of some of its corporate clients was stolen in January in a data breach that involved a third-party vendor and hackers accessed information, including social security numbers.” Such situations are becoming more common than we can think of. Most of us have one or another type of data stolen or device hacked.

Identity theft and phishing scams are among the most prominent forms of fraud today  | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Identity theft and phishing scams are among the most prominent forms of fraud today Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Identity theft has become one of the most common fraud initiatives in the digital world. WhatsApp, for instance, released a double check for passwords so that it could make it slightly more complicated for identities to be stolen. To steal when this happens, fraudsters start sending requests to people to make cash deposits that use instant money transfer. I know quite a few people who have fallen for it. These criminals steal the phone number and with the access to these people, start developing a conversation as if they were the real person. They try to get close to the phone owner, and ask for some instant help with the promise of sorting out everything in the next few days.

Prisons are now a source of ransom scams | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Prisons are now a source of ransom scams Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

There are countless types of scams using contemporary means of information. In developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico for example, prisoners inside penitentiaries call people randomly to say that they have kidnapped their daughters and sons and ask for a ransom to be deposited on someone’s account. Apparently childish, these strategies divert a lot of money from people, using their desperation. Phishing fraud in Brazil has risen 100 per cent in the pandemic. The more people get economically desperate, the more these types of scams increase. Fake marketing phone calls rose by 340 per cent during the same period, also in Brazil.

The lack of transparency in the digital realm is the price we pay to live in such a dynamic world | Digital Legacies by Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The lack of transparency in the digital realm is the price we pay to live in such a dynamic world Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

These types of fake approaches and scams will never end and that’s why we need to do more to secure privacy and security. The question today is that are all these scams more transparent to us, even though we can’t really see what is being done behind our backs until we realise the damage. Contemporary fraud is more silent. But this is the price we need to pay to live in such a dynamic world. There’s no other option.

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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