Cyber expert to 'Post': COVID-19 will flood the world with fraud

Frank McKenna said governments which want to offer grants quickly during COVID-19 run a great risk of being bamboozled. In the US, $100 billion was stolen this way.

Fraud culture is going to flood the world due to the financial crisis caused to the global economy by COVID-19, cybersecurity expert Frank McKenna told The Jerusalem Post ahead of his Wednesday lecture as part of Cyber Week 2020 at Tel Aviv University.  
“Have you heard of the scam-rapper Teejayx6?” he asks. “He wrote a book for people who download his music. It’s called Fraud Bible, a 32-GB how-to guide that will teach you how to commit cybercrime. This is a musician who glorifies the culture of stealing people’s identity for profit in the same manner that Mexican drug cartels are glorified in the Narcocorrido [drug-ballad] genre. He’s on social media, he has nearly 300,000 followers on Instagram, and there are plenty of young people who notice him and say, ‘Hey, why not?’”
What exactly is online fraud? In a world in which billions of people cast a digital shadow, composed of social media profiles, accounts on dating sites, online banking services and streaming options, defining it isn’t always easy.
Many people might beef up their job description on a dating site or use a flattering picture on a social media profile. Others might report that they earn less money than they actually do to pay less taxes – then turn around to the bank and claim they make more money than they do to get a big loan.
For McKenna, “Fraud is when people misrepresent who they are to manipulate others in order to gain things they couldn’t get otherwise.”  
A perfect example of this, he says, is the romantic scam.  
Such a scam targets elderly men and women, usually widowed, who are active on dating sites.  
“Imagine that a widow begins to get a lot of flattering attention from a profile that seems too good to be true, a man who appears to be handsome and in his forties and starts to take an interest in this woman and her life,” he suggests.  
The online communication quickly becomes emotional, and requests of financial aid begin to pour in.  
“At first it’s a request to help buy a flight ticket to the US to meet up,” he explains. “When the money is sent, the victim is asked to send more money because something has happened which prevented the person on the other end from buying the ticket.”
Studies show that half of those targeted in this way knew something was wrong as they were chatting with the fake profile, but chose to go ahead anyway.  
“The person they were talking to is actually sitting in a web café in Abuja, Nigeria,” McKenna told the Post, “and there is a large subculture in that country that rationalizes it with ideas like, oh, all Americans are rich anyway so it doesn’t matter.
“It’s a culture – people who make a lot of money in this way teach others and boast about it. Fraud is like cancer: If someone gets away with it, it will spread and grow.”  
In the US, where two trillion US dollars were earmarked to offer aid to Americans in the time of COVID-19, cyber criminals were able to steal $100 billion due to the government opting to offer aid quickly and being willing to run less background checks, McKenna says.
In some cases, he explains, “all you had to do was fill an online form.”  
This money, he adds, doesn’t end up in the pockets of adorable slackers who use it to buy pizza and weed. It ends up in the pockets of organized crime groups.  
“In the days of Al Capone, criminals had to break into a home to steal, or to reach their hands into a pocket to lift a wallet,” he said.
“Online, that psychological barrier is removed. The Nigerian scammer will never have to look at the face of the widow who lost her life savings because of him. The scam is done at the press of a button.”  
McKenna is active in Knoble, a human rights group that offers help to fight human trafficking and elderly fraud by bringing together experts from the cyber and law enforcement communities.  
He is also the co-founder of Point Predictive and maintains a blog on cybersecurity called Frankonfraud.
The National Cyber Week is an annual event jointly held by the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, The Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, Tel Aviv University, the National Cyber Directorate under the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry.
The event was held October 19-21, the first time it was held entirely online, due to COVID-19.
McKenna will lecture on “Devious Minds: The Battle on Corona Relief Funds.”