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Financial Crime

You are being watched. Every time you get on the internet using your computer, tablet, phone, etc. you will be watched by someone. Website cookies track what you do. Social media platforms collect and sell data about you to advertisers. Criminals use these same methods to find the best way to separate you from your money.

Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, or other personal information by disguising an electronic communication as trustworthy. Phishing can look like an innocuous or legitimate email message involving a delivery, account information, fraudulent sales invoice, etc. Phishing can also come as a Tweet or Facebook post. Twitter recently shut down several accounts with popular pictures that contained instructions for bots. Users were inadvertently downloading bots that could control their computer or mobile device.

When a business email account is compromised, hackers infiltrate and watch your email. They learn business patterns so that they know when to send an illicit email authorizing or requesting a money transfer through an invoice scam. Many times, the hacker is taking an actual invoice the company expects to pay but changes the routing information to an account someone in the U.S. has opened on behalf of the hacker. In Texas and most states, opening a bank account for another, receiving money for another, and similar methods can be a felony. Typically, these transfers are not discovered until after the money is withdrawn.

Another example of email compromise involves real estate transactions. Hackers will compromise the email of a real estate agent, title company officer, or similar persons. Nothing happens until the last week when it gets crazy and stressful. Criminals take advantage by changing an email to divert the funds. ALWAYS verify a check or wire before submitting it.

Criminals target the lonely or elderly through romance scams. The hacker will create an online persona to target victim often by impersonating a sympathetic person like a deployed soldier, the disabled, etc. Contact is initially made through a social media platform but the scammer will immediately try to move communications to text, email, etc. before their account is shut down. These are professional con men (and women) who will spend months cultivating a relationship before asking for money.

In 2018, there was an estimated $9B in online fraud, but there are ways to protect yourself. Routinely clean your device and web browsers. More than three-fourths of successful attacks are on mobile devices. Beware of unfamiliar emails with links to photos or websites. Rather than clicking on a link, open a new page and type in the link address to make sure you go to the right website. The people doing these scams are professional con artists who just want the money without a care of what happens to anyone else. Make fraud harder by protecting yourself.

Posted by Harris County Assistant District Attorney Keith Houston, Cybercrimes on 13 Mar 2019