Trials of modern living part 3

O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! 

It’s a truth, universally, acknowledged, that the tighter we make security, the harder the criminals work to get round it.

Years ago, you could pick up a car stereo in a dodgy deal down the pub – I know, a few of mine probably met their next owner that way. Nowadays, the cars music system is so ingrained into the whole front of the car it’s impossible to get out (or repair without paying a fortune to the dealership.

It’s the same with cyber-crime – email scams and phishing trips. The more checks and barriers that online traders put up to prevent them or their customers being scammed, the more sophisticated the scammers become.

The old email-from-a-dead-billionaire-just-needing-a-bank-acount-to-pay-money-into has been so well publicised that, hopefully no-one falls for it any more. Ditto the supposedly emergency email from a ‘friend’ stuck in the back of beyond with no money who needs you to wire him cash. So hackers are getting more clever with how they target us.

I like to think I’m pretty savvy about this sort of thing. I never give my password or PIN out to anyone, use different passwords for different accounts (with the result that ‘forgotten password’ is the link most clicked, but that’s another story) and keep any eye on what’s coing in and out of my account – pretty savvy.

But I was – nearly – caught out this week. It’s the month after Christmas and, like many of us, I used a certain online shopping website to do some of my Christmas shopping.

So, when I got an email from on what looked EXACTLY like all the other emails I’d received from them, with the same heading – Your Amazon Order NO 123456 has shipped – I thought nothing of it, beyond ‘Oh, I thought I’d had everything from them. I’d better check what it is”.

Turns out the order details showed things I hadn’t bought and quoted a delivery name and address that’s not mine. It was for a lady who lives somewhere in the Midlands. Funnily enough there was a line at the bottom that said “If there are any errors with this order, click here”.

I was just about to click it when I thought I’d better check the address the email as sent from. It might have said “ but when I hovered the mouse over it, it came up as a random address, clearing originating anywhere but Amazon. The page was identical to all the others I’d received which is why I so nearly clicked through. I don’t know what would have happened if I had – maybe there would have been more warning signs, maybe not.

The more trading we do online – and merchants are increasing their online presence and the amount of business transacted that way all the time – the more we put ourselves in the firing line for this kind of scam.

All the cyber-security people tell us to keep an eye on our emails, check out the real sending email address on anything that looks dodgy and don’t trust anything unless you are absolutely sure of it.

I guess the technology that makes our lives easier, also makes the scammers’ lives easier too!  

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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