The front page of the Herald Express on Tuesday caught my eye as it featured the story of a young lady who was conned out of several hundred pounds by disclosing her banking details after being advised by an e-mail to follow a link to the HSBC website and confirm her security details so they could ensure that she was still using the same e-mail address. In reality, the site that she went to wasn’t in fact the HSBC site but just a page probably generated by a couple of spotty teenagers but as the difference was indistinguishable she proceeded to disclose all of her banking details to them.

I initially received this e-mail myself around 10 days ago from both Nationwide and Barclays; what is confusing me is that these are both banks that I deal with and so I’m wondering if the fraudsters actually know who I bank with or whether it’s just coincidence that they choose to e-mail me posing as being these banks. I’m assuming that it’s the latter as if they managed to locate a list of e-mail addresses of Barclays customers than that worries me more than the actual e-mail they sent. Anyway, I digress.

It’s basic human nature to believe that what we read represents reality; we tend to accept this viewpoint as when reading a newspaper or listening to the radio we assume that what we are being told must contain at least an element of truth otherwise we wouldn’t be hearing about it. There is a very important difference with the Internet though and that is that never before has there been a means so readily available to allow any person off the street to assume a different identity and send out e-mails to hundreds of thousands of people at virtually no cost to themselves. I could send an e-mail to a reader now from the address advising them to download what could be a virus to ‘fix’ their operating system and doing so would only take me 20 seconds to set up and would ultimately result in messing up their machine. I’m not into the habit of doing such things though; my job is to help people fix their machines, not destroy them but I’m just trying to prove a point.

The one thing that I did find remarkable about the case printed on Tuesday and indeed the other hundreds of people who have been taken for a ride by this scam is that members of the public are actually disclosing their details to these fraudsters. My attitude to the Internet is that if I wouldn’t do it offline in the real world then I certainly wouldn’t do it online; for example, if a someone were to phone me posing as Barclays telesales and asked me to confirm to them my bank account number, sort code and all my banking passwords for ‘market research’ then I’d quite simply tell them where to go. On the Internet, if someone sends an e-mail saying that they need these all of these highly confidential details so they can update their mailing list then people fall for it in their droves; no offence to those that have but that to me seems crazy.

Let’s just summarize here; the Internet is an extremely safe place to conduct secure transactions and if you are just slightly vigilant then these problems will not occur. There were paragraphs in Tuesday’s article implying that perhaps Internet banking is not very safe and that in some way it was the banks responsibility that these problems were occurring and so they should be refunding money immediately to those affected even before an investigation takes place. This again seems like a very bizarre and misinformed attitude to take; if a woman dressed in Barclays clothing walked up to me in the street and asked for my debit card and PIN number so she could check my bank details were all correct then I wouldn’t expect to be refunded by Barclays when suddenly a couple of grand disappears from my account. I’m not trying to be harsh but that is the real life equivalent of what the people who have been falling for this scam have been doing and if you’re going to be using the Internet then just a little bit of common sense needs to be engaged as you it would be in the real world.

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