Did we all fall victim?

The Malta Police Force has received 1,133 reports of fraudulent gains in the first six months of 2021, TheJournal.mt can reveal. This was a 227% increase over the 347 reports received in the first half of 2020.

A fraudster will intentionally lie to you to gain money or something of good value from you, but some go a step further and might ask you to surrender some sort of legal right. 

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the world’s largest anti-fraud organisation, has deemed the Coronavirus pandemic as ‘a perfect storm for fraud’, and have warned big businesses and organisations to be on the lookout. During the 2008 recession, a study by this same association showed that 80% of experts believed fraud levels would increase as the economy struggled, so many factors present then are likely relevant today. 

Maltese criminologist Professor Saviour Vassallo explained to TheJournal.mt that as society continues to move to some facet of normalcy, crime activity will reflect these same changes. This can also be seen in the different reported crime categories during the first six months of the year. Financial crimes such as money laundering, particularly mobile or postal scams during the second quarter when the country was in partial lockdown, forgery and computer misuses have also been on the rise and fed off the pandemic.

From scams to fake websites

The national police force itself issued a series of warnings, even recently, urging the public to be wary of big companies asking for very private information. A scam that ripped through Malta last July saw many fall for a fake local number pretending to be the Police Force itself to gain information or credit card details. Some recordings also told victims that a warrant for their arrest had been issued. 

As society continues to move to some facet of normalcy, crime activity will reflect these same changes.

MaltaPost and DHL were also used by recent fraudsters to trick victims, with more than 200 reports filed for the former. It was also reported that around €100,000 was stolen from individuals during these scams. 

Fast-forward a few months, and new reports emerged of individuals or companies posing as local news houses, spreading false information.

Recent findings by Professor Formosa himself, seen by TheJournal.mt, show how during the first six months of 2021 the Malta Police Force received 81 reports from individuals who fell victim to spoofing. This was a notable increase compared to the 64 reports registered during the same period of 2020. 

How to avoid spoof or fraud

Asked about tips and tricks or any tell-tale signs of spoof or fraud, Inspector Timothy Zammit from the Police Force’s Cybercrime Unit explained how online, we tend to act on impulse and think of our actions too little too late. “In the real world, if we had to check for incoming traffic after crossing the road, it would be futile to avoid putting ourselves in harm’s way. In the same way that we question opportunities that come our way in the real world, we need to question those opportunities presented to us in the virtual world. By not rushing into things, we are doing ourselves a favour”.

Inspector Zammit also explained how we should use the internet as a source of information in itself, objectively assess whether the investment opportunity or price requested makes sense, and be on the alert if the person at the other end has created a sense of urgency. “Fraudsters rely on the lack of attention as a result of today’s fast-paced environment”, Inspector Zammit concluded.

Fraud was among other crimes which have increased during the pandemic. The most notable increase was in erroneous reports (1600%), and the use of forged documents (1300%).

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