Cyprus is witnessing a significant annual increase in online fraud cases, according to Andreas Anastasiades, the Director of the Electronic Crime Sub-Directorate. He explains that this phenomenon escalated during the pandemic and periods of lockdown when internet usage surged. "Phishing" scams, involving the mass sending of deceptive emails to numerous users with the intention of fraudulently obtaining money, are the most prevalent type of fraud in Cyprus and constitute the majority of reported complaints. Telephone scams also persist, with a recent incident occurring on July 10th involving a 78-year-old resident of Limassol who was defrauded of over €255,000.
"Phishing" and cryptocurrencies
According to Mr. Anastasiades, the "Phishing" phenomenon is a global concern for all police authorities. In Cyprus, this deceptive tactic targets thousands of citizens, with even a small number falling into the trap resulting in significant profits for the fraudsters. The scammers impersonate various entities such as companies, official organizations, banks, and couriers, urging recipients to follow specific instructions in the email to resolve purported issues, often involving monetary payments. For instance, if posing as a bank, they claim the victim's account is blocked and coerce them to click on a provided link to retrieve their passwords and access their account. To intensify pressure, scammers label the matter as 'urgent'. Additionally, there are instances where electronic messages falsely inform individuals that they have won competitions.
Anastasiades also stated that while there are numerous cases of "Phishing," the amounts obtained by the perpetrators are smaller compared to cryptocurrency scams, which are less common in Cyprus. He stated that the scammers entice individuals to invest in cryptocurrencies, promising substantial profits. Anastasiades clarified that victims typically provide a sum of 3-4 thousand euros, and within 2-3 weeks, the perpetrators present them with a fabricated yet convincing account statement showing their investment doubled. This convinces victims to invest more money in pursuit of higher returns, resulting in significant financial losses.
Fake doctors and the "romance scam"
A growing scam that has been observed in Cyprus is the fake doctor scheme. Perpetrators engage in this telephone scam, employing non-physical contact methods to deceive victims. They utilize tactics that appear convincing and employ "blackmail" techniques to pressure potential victims into immediate payment, claiming that their loved ones are in danger. As a result, scammers primarily target elderly individuals who may be less capable of investigating or seeking further information, as stated by Anastasiades.
Furthermore, there is a prevalent "romance scam" where scammers impersonate military personnel, doctors, pilots, and others, seeking to deceive victims by establishing a false "romantic connection." They mislead victims with promises of soon coming to Cyprus to live together but assert a need for financial assistance. Anastasiades emphasized that this issue is of significant concern, and occasional complaints are received, particularly from women.
Finally, he mentioned another method of fraud that he deemed outdated. This method involves rare complaints and revolves around individuals who feign possession of substantial amounts of money or gold. They also pretend to be heirs to fortunes worth millions, enticing victims with promises of substantial dividends in exchange for assistance.
How to protect yourself
Anastasiades emphasized the importance of caution, advising people to exercise skepticism when encountering information on the internet. He urged them to be patient and avoid rushing into giving money, suggesting instead that they seek guidance from individuals with extensive knowledge in the field. Additionally, he encouraged individuals to reach out to the Cybercrime Sub-Directorate or visit their website (https://www.cyberalert.cy), which offers valuable tips and provides a complaints box.
Drawing from the website's advice, people are urged to exercise caution while handling email attachments or clicking on links. If an attachment or link appears unexpected or suspicious, it is recommended not to click on it. It is also essential to verify the URL of the website the link leads to, as malicious actors often exploit spelling errors to direct users to harmful domains. Furthermore, the public is advised to exercise extreme caution when approached by individuals attempting to gather sensitive information through manipulation. In such instances, it is advised to decline any requests for sensitive information if someone calls or sends emails. Instead, individuals are encouraged to directly contact the company the person claims to represent to verify their credentials before disclosing any personal details.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]