the trail of the web scammers, by David Adams - 6th
The Sydney Morning Herald)
your own boss!" "Eliminate your credit card
debt!" "Use our proven strategies to make
can reach into your email inbox or you can come across
them while surfing the web. They are on bulletin boards,
in chat rooms and - they are scammers, fraudsters
and charlatans, constantly trawling for fresh victims
on the information superhighway.
between them and you stands a group of dedicated individuals
- modern-day marshals, if you will - whose aim is
to prevent these outlaws who operate in the Wild West
of the internet from getting to your hard-earned cash.
those standing between you and them are Keith Inman
and the six members of the Australian Securities and
Investments Commission's electronic enforcement unit.
Charged with providing expertise to ASIC investigators,
the team - which includes a senior lawyer, a technician
and experienced investigators - was formed in 2000.
was) clear that internet channels were open to abuse,
particularly for the offer of illegal financial services
products and through scams," says Inman, the
director of electronic enforcement at ASIC. "We
needed to make sure that we had the . . . skills and
knowledge to be able to investigate these occurrences
and to be able to trace the individuals or groups
involved and bring our enforcement outcome to bear,
whether that be prosecution or some sort of action
in the civil courts to case their conduct."
in central Sydney, the members of the unit fly around
the country to assist in investigations.
investigations are sparked by complaints from the
public, but the team is also involved in more aggressive
actions against scammers. These include highly publicised
campaigns, during which teams of up to 20 people -
including investigators brought from around the country
- use a thesaurus of key words to identify websites
or bulletin boards that may contravene legislation
administered by ASIC.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission conducts
similar campaigns. Louise Sylvan, the ACCC's deputy
chairwoman, says the latest campaign, in February,
was aimed at shutting down suspect sites and apprehending
those behind them. "The sites are extremely fast
- they disappear and so on - so we're trying to be
incredibly quick in terms of grabbing them."
believes that co-ordinating the sweep with other agencies
around the world, sending a "tidal wave of enforcements"
into the internet, sends a strong message to scammers.
"Scammers and shonky traders need to know that
the consumer protection agencies are in that space.
I think it's a really crucial message."
has also been involved in the development of scam
search software known as Scamalert. The software has
been developed under the banner of the $2.2 million
Scamseek project carried out by a team of more than
15 people at the Sydney-based Capital Markets Co-operative
Research Centre, working in partnership with the University
of Sydney's School of Information Technologies and
Macquarie University's Department of Linguistics and
a web spider to trawl the net 24 hours a day, the
software feeds information back to a document classifier,
which analyses webpages to sort those sites that feature
scams from those that don't.
Patrick, a professor at the University of Sydney and
the project leader, says that rather than using key
words to identify suspect webpages, Scamalert "understands
the meaning of words and thereby forms a richer and
more subtle analysis of the document".
have shown Scamalert can identify a scam three out
of four times.
for protecting yourself against internet scams
get a prospectus or product disclosure statement.
Deal only with licensed advisory businesses (ASIC
offers a free safety check of businesses licensed
to sell financial products or give advice).
Always get your statements from investment funds,
companies you hold shares in or your superannuation
To protect against self-employment scams, check with
the appropriate authorities - such as a chamber of
commerce, the ACCC or relevant consumer protection
authorities - to see whether an offer of work is genuine
and ask for all details in writing.
Suspect a scam if you're asked for your account details
or a password in an email.
Only go to official financial institution websites
by typing in the URL yourself - never use an email
hyperlink to do so.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Clues for spotting scams include looking for those
which offer bigger and faster returns, claim to involve
less risk and effort or offer something special.
ASIC, ACCC, THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF SCAMS
will spam be banned, by Greg Tingle
Hitchcock, President of WHOA and author of Netcrimes
McGrath, author of Secrets, Lies & Chat
Tien, Electronic Frontiers Foundation