Every year at least two victims of internet fraud lose their lifesavings, according to the head of the police cybercrime unit.

He warned that scammers keep upping their game, hiding behind large company names such as Maltco and Microsoft.

“We come across people who have lost their entire life savings to fraudsters – in one case even up to €200,000 – around twice a year.

“It is very difficult to retrieve lost money so we’re trying to tackle the problem by empowering computer users to prevent any money transactions in the first place,” Police Inspector Timothy Zammit said.

As he spoke he held up an e-mail being sent to Maltese users claiming they have won Maltco’s Super 5 lottery.

It’s the old lottery scam format, Insp. Zammit said.

The senders provide information about Super 5 and Maltco Lotteries Limited, however they give the lottery a spin of their own. Numbers 1 to 45, they claim, are electronically attached to e-mail addresses and then entered into a random lottery program, which eventually provides the winning addresses.

The ‘winner’ is urged to contact Maltco’s accredited security firm based in Spain.

If it looks too good to be true, then it’s probably not true

When contacted, a spokeswoman for Maltco said the company e-mailed people only to answer their enquiries.

“If it looks too good to be true, then it’s probably not true. People should first question the legitimacy of the source. If you are a lottery winner, Maltco would not contact you unless you’ve presented the winning ticket,” she said.

Insp. Zammit suggested using the internet to check things out, not only to find out whether the contact e-mail address is a free one (reputable companies have their own e-mail addresses) but also whether other people have already reported the contents of the e-mail as a scam.

Other sorts of scam which seem to have resurfaced recently are those done over the phone. For instance, an agent supposedly from Microsoft calls informing the would-be victims that they have a virus on their computer and that they could help them remove it against payment. They would then direct the receiver to an online link where they would need to input a code.

That gives the hackers remote access to the computer, enabling them to retrieve all sorts of sensitive information.

Victims are targeted at random, however the caller might even ask for a person by name if their number is registered in an online directory.

“Once we even received a call here. Sometimes, if you question their legitimacy, they put you through to a ‘police officer’ or an ‘FBI agent’, who in turn asks for money to cover legal fees. Fraudsters adapt their ways to still get their money.”

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the software company never calls households. “Computer users should ideally set their system to automatically check for updates and keep their antivirus active. They should never give out payment details over the phone,” she said.

The Cyber Crime Unit last year tackled 584 cases, down from 616 in 2013, but on the same level as 2012, which saw 576 cases.

Besides hacking and fraud, the unit also deals with insults and threats as well as porno­­graphy crimes.

When the unit opened in 2003, there were a total of 51 cases in all, the equivalent of one new case every week. But the number more than doubled the following year with 107 reports, and it has been going up ever since to some two new cases daily.

Insp. Zammit said the increase in reports reflected growing awareness as well as more uptake and advances in technology: a pen drive today can store as much information as a hard drive when Insp. Zammit first set foot in the unit in 2007.

The unit is also responsible for supporting other police investigations by, for instance, examining suspects’ computers.

In one of the first cases he handled, the unit received a computer belonging to someone who was being investigated on suspected defilement.

“We came across pictures of two girls taken some four years earlier who were not related to the case being looked at originally.

“We managed to track them down and give them some closure. That too is satisfying for us.

“I’m doing this as I sincerely believe I can be of benefit to society. The officers at the unit are not patrolling the streets but using technology to society’s benefit.”


• Do not discard original scam e-mails but send them to computer.crime@gov.mt as they could contain valuable information.

• If you have not subscribed to a service, do not provide contact or account details.

• If you receive a fraudulent e-mail, mark it as spam because email service providers collaborate with each other and could pull down the sender’s account.

Maltco can be contacted on info@maltco.net or helpline 2388 3333, while Microsoft can be contacted on 2138 1202

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