Andrus Hiiepuu: Cyber fraud costing people millions

Andrus Hiiepuu.
Andrus Hiiepuu. Source: Kristjan Madalvee

Who is responsible for the fact that people in Estonia are taken in for millions of euros every year and what can be done about it? In the end, the decision of whether to engage a stranger offering a path to wealth is for the individual to make, Andrus Hiiepuu writes.

People in Estonia lost over €3 million to fraud over the first six months of this year. A total of 520 "investors" lost €1.7 million, while phone scams took another 251 Estonians to the cleaners to the tune of €1.4 million. Let us keep in mind that these are only the officially registered cases and the actual situation is worse still.

Get rich quick or end up in debt

Any conversation where someone offers you the chance to become three, five or ten times richer overnight is best left there.

Fairy tales are called that for a reason, and investment opportunities where you put in €500 today and take out €5,000 tomorrow simply do not exist. And even should it prove possible as a result of a miraculous coincidence, a stranger will not call you from an unknown number to offer you a way in.

It is a sad fact that people's hope of getting rich quick or finally being able to repay old debts is what allows swindlers to take them for all they have. We should not be fooled into thinking these deeds are done in dingy basements. On the contrary, these are often well-oiled networks where future con artists receive long and thorough training of how to penetrate their victims' minds and win their trust.

The perpetrators do not limit themselves to cleaning out people's bank accounts and can also urge their new "friends" to seek out more funds, borrow from loved ones and credit institutions and sell everything that isn't nailed down. The result is people drowning in debt many of whom will find it impossible to crawl back into the black in this lifetime.

Are telecoms responsible?

Telecoms are working to block phishing messages and phone scams as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this still follows the logic of putting out the fire after it starts, meaning that we can only take action when we learn of fraud or attempts. Still, we can block the addresses sending out phishing messages in a matter of hours. It is a kind of detective work to determine where these messages originate before we can put obstacles in their path.

Consistent efforts at blocking SMS and phone scams have resulted in some success as numbers with Estonia's country code are now seldom used in such schemes. The perpetrators mostly use foreign numbers, which is why people should be especially wary of such calls. Especially if the person does not usually have contact with people abroad.

Even though service providers are effective at finding and blocking perpetrators, this safety net is not universal as the decision of whether to engage a stranger offering a path to wealth is made by individuals. We ask people to always report fraud and scam attempts to the police and their service provider because that is the only way we can obstruct such attempts.

It is some solace that answering calls does not cost customers extra. Scams are not perpetrated using the service provider's price list but through the conversation that follows once the person answers the call. People are convinced to reveal their personal data or transfer sums.

Talk to your friend and grandmother

Two heads are better than one, which is why it pays to consult someone after receiving unexpected letters or calls and before clicking on something or, even worse, parting with money. Scams do not only succeed on grandmas and grandpas, as one might think, and it is possible to mess with the heads of people who are in their prime and digitally savvy.

That is why I suggest consulting loved ones you trust and agree on a system of contacting someone when something on the screen appears to good to be true. It is also possible to turn to one's service provider as such things are always taken seriously.

The Ukraine war has put the spotlight on cybersecurity issues, meaning that plans for digitization must be accompanied by the proper security measures.

Considering that digital service providers are doing research and development almost 24/7, the public sector should be bolder in looking for avenues of cooperation. While public sector developments are cyclic and tied to individual initiatives, the private sector is constantly locked in a security battle as the criminals also keep coming up with new and innovative methods.

Let us talk to our people

There can never be too much talk about computer and cell phone security. The target groups run the gamut, from children taking their first steps in the digital world to occasional users who only turn to the internet when they have to. Between them are countless those who might accidentally click the wrong link and fall victim to fraud.

In truth, we are all responsible for people in Estonia being taken in for millions of euros and must work together more effectively so that criminals would no longer wish to waste their time here.

While the private and public sectors can look for ways to work together, the everyday service user must promise to take a little more care and consult with someone if an anonymous benefactor vows to make them ten times richer the next day. The money lost to criminals could be put to much better use, a new roof for example.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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