Thursday, April 25, 2024

Scammers are taking over the world


Scammers are taking over the world

A seedy layer beneath our regular lives is cluttered with bogus messages, spam callers and phishing attempts.

You open your eyes and grope for your phone. You check your inbox and discover dozens of spam emails that made it past the filter.
Tapping over to Instagram, you find a request for a supposed brand collaboration in your DMs. Your WhatsApp notifications, meanwhile, consist solely of strangers asking you to invest in a cryptocurrency exchange.
A recruiting manager has contacted you through LinkedIn to say they are “impressed with your unique background and journey” and want to discuss “exciting job opportunities” at several Fortune 500 companies.
While scrolling social media on your lunch break, you see Tom Hanks promoting a dental plan and Taylor Swift peddling a cookware giveaway. (Or, at least, that’s what seems to be going on.)

Fake images on Taylor Swift have been used for online scams. (This one is real.) 
On the way home from work, you receive a text alert from FedEx with a tracking number and a link to update your delivery preferences – except you don’t remember any pending shipments to your home.
Should you click on the link? Pick up that call? Pursue that job opportunity? Is the person who texted you “hey” just now from a number you don’t recognise someone you actually know?
Welcome to Scam World, the seedy layer just beneath the world we live in every day. It’s cluttered with these bogus text messages, spam calls and phishing attempts.
Seemingly every facet of daily life now comes with its attendant scam – even death, when details in online obituaries result in identity theft. And the prospect that we may be deceived at any time “leaves us feeling vulnerable”, says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston.
“The lack of trust means you’re not able to take information at face value. You’ve got a heightened state of vigilance.”

‘Groomed’ to be scammed

In the early years of digital culture, the border between the real world and the internet was firm. Surfing the web for an hour or two in the evening felt like a hobby separate from the business of everyday life.
Now, we carry the internet around in our pockets and rely on it for practically every aspect of daily life. “We are in the computer,” says Rachel Tobac, CEO of cybersecurity company SocialProof Security.
Living our lives online has bred a misplaced but necessary trust. It would be difficult to use TikTok, Uber and Gmail every day while believing that doing so creates a perilous risk.
Tobac says many people “turn their brains off” when they go about their business on these apps and platforms, “because it is so stressful to consider that these interactions are potentially harming”.
To be sure, there are still plenty of real-world fraudsters and grifters, some of whom – like Anna Delvey and Sam Bankman-Fried – have become figures of fascination. But “a digital realm creates a bigger funnel – at less cost – for scams”, says Cory Doctorow, a journalist and science fiction author who has written about the internet since its early days.
Russian con artist Anna Delvey played by Julia Garner in the Netflix series Inventing Anna.  
Doctorow notes that, just as the internet has made routine tasks less burdensome, it has also made scams much easier to pull off. Picture an old-school boiler room in which fast-talking con artists place hundreds of phone calls in an effort to fleece strangers out of their savings. Now fast-forward to 2024, when scammers can send out millions of phishing texts and emails with the help of bots.
“If you can automate parts of it, you can cast a much wider net,” Doctorow says.
Text scams tricked Americans out of $US300 million in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission reported. That same year, Americans received 225 billion spam texts, a 157 per cent increase from the previous year, according to a report by Robokiller, a company that sells a spam-blocker app.
As digitally savvy and cautious as he is, Doctorow is not immune to phishing.
In December, while holidaying with his family in New Orleans, he got a call from his bank asking if he had spent $US1000 at an Apple store in New York. The caller was a scammer who had Doctorow’s phone number and the name of his credit union – perhaps from one of the many data brokers that collect personal information and sell it to third parties – and then used spoofing software to appear as his bank on his caller ID.
During the call, Doctorow gave out the last seven digits of his debit card number – enough information for the scammer to run up charges on his account.
Scam alert: Scammers purported to be from First Sentier Investors, hoping to separate investors from their money. Fairfax Media

A dystopian present

Science fiction author William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace”, made a hacker the protagonist of his 1984 novel Neuromancer, which is set in the 2030s. About 25 years after he wrote it, he began setting his books not in the distant future but in the present.
The fraught landscape of the 2020s seems especially Gibson-like – a destabilising, fatiguing grind in which the very technology we rely on makes us unsure that what we see and hear is real.
Two recent incidents reveal how easy it is to get sucked into Scam World.
In February, a finance worker in Hong Kong was tricked into transferring $US26 million ($40 million) of his company’s money to fraudsters who impersonated his colleagues on a video call. The scam made use of “deepfake” re-creations sophisticated enough to make him think he was speaking with his boss and other staff members. (The phony promotions featuring Hanks and Swift used similar technology.)
Days after Bloomberg reported on the elaborate scam in Hong Kong, The Cut published a first-person account by Charlotte Cowles headlined, The Day I Put $50,000 in a Shoe Box and Handed It to a Stranger.
Towards the start of the story, Cowles, a financial journalist, writes that “a polite woman with a vague accent told me she was calling from Amazon customer service to check some unusual activity on my account”.
What followed was a psychodrama straight out of Hitchcock: After Cowles was informed that she was the victim of identity theft, she was transferred to a Federal Trade Commission investigator and then to a CIA agent. She learnt that she was being investigated for federal crimes and that her phone was tapped.
The hours-long ordeal – a drama entirely manufactured by scammers, played out over a phone line – contained all the ingredients of a modern scam, Tobac says.
“They’re spoofing customer service, building authority with sensitive details from data brokerage sites, using urgency and fear and appealing to authority.”
The reactions to the story were not universally sympathetic, and Cowles understood the complaints of critics who found her credulous.
“Certainly before this happened to me, I was someone who didn’t think I was vulnerable to scams,” she said.
The numbers belie that reaction, however. More than 600,000 cases involving impostor scams were reported in the US last year, costing Americans more than $US2 billion, according to the FTC. The victims included Bravo TV host Andy Cohen, who went on NBC’s Today show in January to warn viewers of how he had lost thousands of dollars to someone posing as a representative from his bank.

‘Politely paranoid’

The strategies people have used to ward off the risks of the analog world may not apply to the new digital reality, says Tobac. “We’re in easy territory for attackers; we haven’t built up defences. I’m sceptical about almost everyone.”
Tobac noted that when she was contacted for this article, she put the reporter’s email address into a verification tool and used a second method of communication, reaching out on X. Only then did she feel safe enough to agree to a phone interview.
She calls her approach being “politely paranoid”. She has to repeat her multi-step verification process dozens if not hundreds of times a week. Polite or not, she has learnt to embrace the paranoia.
As if to underscore what it takes to maintain security in Scam World, she says midway through the interview: “This, by the way, is not my real number.”

Courage - Honouring ANZAC

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. We will remember them.

DISPATCHES FROM THE CULTURE WARS:  The Road to Victory Is Paved With Stories

Japan’s Alliance with the U.S. Has Just Gone GlobalRAND

ANZAC Legend

The final troops are evacuated from Gallipoli on January 9, 1916. (Imperial War Museum)

For the Fallen

By Laurence Binyon, 1914

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation,
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Inferiority of the ‘Western Way of War’ Slowly Comes to Light Simplicius the Thinker. Warning: available part useful but then they want you to download an app. 

Big four consultants ‘commoditised’, says fast-growing boutique firm

 Big four consultants ‘commoditised’, says fast-growing boutique firm

Big four advisory services have become “commoditised” and clients are increasingly seeking tailored advice from specialist firms, the founders of fast-growing challenger ESG and climate advisory firm Rennie Advisory say.
Rennie Advisory, which has flagged ambitious growth targets and is eyeing an expansion into Asia, recently passed the 50-employee mark and appointed former senior EY partner Tim Eddy as its new chairman.

Former EY managing partner of operations Tim Eddy is Rennie Advisory’s new chairman. Eamon Gallagher 
The firm, founded in 2021 by husband and wife Matthew and Simone Rennie, is one of a number of smaller firms capitalising on a client flight from the big four by offering specialised advice at a discount to the cost of the global behemoths.
Despite a tough advisory market, which has caused the top firms to lay off hundreds of consultants, smaller firms continue to grow and gain market share.
Mr Eddy, who also holds directorships at Racing Victoria and Western Sydney Airport, said consulting clients were demanding sector-specific expertise from advisory firms, and were no longer concerned about gaining the imprimatur of a big four firm.
You pick your advisers because you think they are going to do the best for you. Now, among clients, there’s a much more open mind as to who you might want to use,” he said.

Specialist firms benefit

Federal and state governments’ post-PwC rejection of big four consultancies has accelerated a trend towards boutique firms in public sector work. But the technical and cross-disciplinary nature of environmental consulting, driven by the competing demands of the energy transition, has also allowed specialist firms in the energy sector to compete with the big four.
Matthew and Simone Rennie both have broad experience in the energy sector.  
Mr Rennie, the former head of EY’s energy advisory business, said clients were facing more complex problems as they confront changed expectations on ESG and look towards the energy transition.
“Clients have always fundamentally wanted their problems solved. But these problems tend to go across different areas of expertise, so it’s really important to have the right people to solve the problem,” he said.
“What clients don’t want is commoditised advice. There’s a certain amount of that when you’re at [a large] scale, but our hope is that by setting up in a bespoke, values-driven way, we can avoid some of those pitfalls.”
The “bespoke” scale was also part of a pitch to future employees, said Ms Rennie, a former manager at the Australian Energy Market Operator. The smaller scale exposed young consultants to higher-level work earlier than if they were warehoused in one of the large consulting firms, she said.
Pollination Group is the best-known firm in the growing environmental consultancy sector, and Rennie Advisory, backed by a significant equity investment from Pemba Capital Partners, hopes to replicate the green bank’s rapid growth.
Mr Rennie said the capital injection from Pemba would help fund new acquisitions.
Law firms have also sought to capitalise on client demand for energy transition advice, which is proving to be a reliable source of billings amid a generally flat professional services market. Energy partners have led promotions at the law firms as spin-off advisory practices are expanded rapidly.
Having surpassed an initial goal of reaching 20 employees, Rennie Advisory’s next target is expanding its four Australian locations, employing 300 staff and opening offices in the Asia-Pacific.

Partnership structure

Rennie Advisory, like many new advisory firms, is structured as a company, dispensing with the traditional partnership structure that has been widely criticised in the wake of the PwC scandal as out of date and unsatisfactory for governance purposes.
Mr Rennie said a company structure was essential to ensure good governance and drive the strategic growth of the firm.
“One of the shortfalls in a partnership model is the diversification of leadership responsibility. It’s becoming more difficult for those models to continue to uphold consistency of values, quality and structure all the way down through the firm.” he said.
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Maxim Shanahan is a professional services reporter at the Australian Financial Review. Email Maxim at