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Internet fraud based on lies and bait-and-switch advertising

Putting too much trust in the Internet and e-mails can have negative consequences. Andreas Cossalter, attorney for Fortuna Legal Protection Insurance Ltd., explains the dangers of Internet fraud and how consumers and vendors can protect themselves against fraud attempts.

What are the most common forms of Internet fraud and scams?

Andreas Cossalter: Fraudulent practices in the Internet are wide ranging – from credit card misuse to phishing, where perpetrators spy on your personal information and access authorisations, to extortion, where criminals disable a server or data and demand money in return for restoring use or access.

 

A huge number of sales and purchases are conducted online. Are scams a frequent occurrence?

Andreas Cossalter: Indeed they are – on the vendors’ side as well as on the customers’ side. Time and again users of platforms like ricardo.ch or tutti.ch order and pay for goods that are never delivered. Or, vacation homes are advertised that in fact don’t even exist. The customer makes a down payment and never sees the money again.

But, customers can also act in a criminal way, most commonly with merchandise purchased online. Some customers order merchandise, never intending to pay for it. Or, they make the purchase under a false name.

 

How can merchants protect themselves against Internet fraud?

Andreas Cossalter: Merchants should offer credit cards and PayPal as payment options – both are pretty secure. Caution should be exercised if a customer gives a delivery address in Switzerland, but the IP address is in another country or it’s concealed or faked. Merchants should also be alert if the delivery and billing addresses differ from one another and if the value of the purchases in the shopping cart is unusually high. I recommend that online shops get comprehensive advice from a service provider specialised in fraud prevention.

 

How can customers best protect themselves?

Andreas Cossalter: Customers should not trust just any online shop. Consult reports from other consumers on their experiences with the shop, in Google, for example, and check where the company has its head office. In Switzerland, companies are required to state their address, including the canton, on their homepage. If you purchase from a Swiss company, it is easier to assert your legal rights, if necessary. Companies that have their head office in some exotic place do not inspire confidence. You should also be suspicious if the website contains a lot of graphical errors or language mistakes and if the published prices are unnaturally low. Plus, you should never buy from shops that offer advance payment as the only option.

 

In what areas is online fraud widespread?

Andreas Cossalter: Fake online identities are found circulating on dating websites, and, of course, the trick with fake lottery winnings is one of the oldest in the book. After convincing the victim that they’ve won a lottery prize, the criminals demand money up front to cover the administrative costs of paying out the fake lottery winnings.

 

Can anyone become a victim of online scams?

Andreas Cossalter: Yes, there are just as many potential targets as there are motives. A big bank can be a target, just like a private individual can be.

 

What can I as a private online user do?

Andreas Cossalter: Vigilance and a little healthy suspicion go a long way to preventing bad experiences. Be careful about what information you reveal about yourself and to whom, and remember that every bit of information that you share can potentially be misused. As a guideline, ask yourself, what information would you feel comfortable posting on your front door for anyone to see? You should never reveal more than that in the virtual world. In particular, you should protect login codes for e-mail and e-banking, credit card information and web accounts.

 

How can I best do that?

Ideally, you should encrypt the data on your mobile devices and choose a different highly secure password for each of your accounts, which you should also change regularly. A secure password is at least eight characters long and comprises letters, numbers and special characters. I also recommend using a software that stores all your login codes in encrypted form and only allows them to be accessed after entering a high-quality password.

 

Do virus protection programs actually do what they promise?

Andreas Cossalter: They help by offering protection against malware that has been around in the Web for a while already. They can’t protect you 100% because viruses are constantly changing form, and new attacks are hard to recognise. Here, too, being vigilant yourself supports the work of your virus scanner. Don’t trust everything you find in the Internet or read in e-mails. For example, trustworthy firms will never request confidential information from you by e-mail! Be careful opening e-mail attachments, even if the sender initially seems familiar to you, and never permit macros to run automatically in Word, Excel or Access. Try to surf only on sites you trust. It’s best to have a computer you only use to surf – separate from the computer you use for office work and banking business.

 

Does this mean that IT security technology is destined to always be a step behind the criminals?

Andreas Cossalter: Unfortunately, that’s the case and it will remain so for some time to come. Every system can be hacked in some way, and as soon as one fraudulent practice is uncovered, a new trick is there to take its place. It’s assumed that the digital world will develop exponentially. For example, the “Internet of Things” is immanent, which means that not only human beings will use the Internet, but household devices, switches and sensors will also be connected to the web. This will give criminals an even broader field for making trouble.

 

How do Generali and Fortuna Legal Protection Insurance protect against damage caused by online fraud?

Andreas Cossalter: Generali offers products that include cyber coverage, ranging from reimbursement of the financial losses suffered because of fraud through to IT Assistance services. Mobbing in the Internet, credit card misuse and online shopping fraud are also covered. Here, the protection includes legal services provided by Fortuna. Fortuna also offers its own insurance solutions for private individuals and companies built on a variety of cyber insurance modules.

Cyber insurance products are in demand, especially by companies, young adults and parents of children and teenagers who spend a lot of time on the Internet and in the social media world.

 

 

About our expert:

Andreas Cossalter studied law at the University of Zurich. He joined Fortuna Legal Protection Insurance Ltd. in 2008, where he has headed up a team of lawyers and attorneys focused on the field of cyber crime since 2015.

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