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Northern Ireland MLA's warning after email hackers claim he is stuck in Turkey and in need of cash

By Jonny Bell

Published 28/09/2016

Jim Wells
Jim Wells

A Northern Ireland MLA has urged people to ignore an email from him asking for help from Turkey as he has once again been the target of internet fraudsters.

DUP MLA Jim Wells had his AOL account hacked and a message sent out to his contacts saying his bag was stolen in Istanbul and he was in desperate need of cash.

The email was sent on Wednesday morning just after nine and the South Down representative sent out messages to his thousands of contacts saying the message was fake and for it to be ignore.

"There were some people that did get in touch to ask if I was ok," said the Assembly man.

"And there were others who contacted to say they'd offer money for me to stay out there.

"You can joke but there is a dark side to this and I do know of one person who responded to a similar message and lost a large amount of money."

The MLA said the account hacked was an old email address that he just uses to direct messages to his Google service. He immediately deleted the message and changed all his passwords.

He said he had no idea why he had been targeted, adding: "Cyber crime is the biggest fraud there is and these types of messages are sent out in their billions every day and they only need a very small number to respond and they have them.

"And the consequences can be devastating with people's lives ruined and the likelihood of them getting their money - what could be their life savings - back is small, as those behind the scam will be long gone by the time anyone ever tracks them down.

"Many people can be caught out - not just the vulnerable. It's as bad, if not worse, as walking into someone's home and robbing them.

"So I would urge people, I am not in Turkey I am working away as usual in Stormont and for them not to respond in any way to this message or any message like it.

"I would also urge people to have discipline in what they share online and who they accept as friends on Facebook."

More: DUP's Jim Wells targeted by 'Russian woman seeking warmth of Western man'

This is the second time Mr Wells - whose wife Grace is currently being cared for in a nursing home after suffering from a serious stroke - has been the target of internet fraudsters.

The former Health Minister said he received a message on social media site Facebook from a "young Russian lady" who said she wanted to "feel the warmth of a Western man" in what was thought to be a blackmailing scam.

He added: "Anyone going through a low point in their life - or even just caught out not concentrating - can be a victim to these scams.

"There are also lots more older people online today than there ever was before and someone thinking they are doing a kind act can be caught out and left penniless.

"In the first instance it wasn't hard for me to see through it. What would a 22-year-old model see in a 59-year-old greying man with three children?"

In six months last year PSNI detectives dealt with 62 incidents of cyber blackmail.

And earlier this year police warned people of the dangers of internet blackmail plots after a number of people were encouraged to film an intimate act before then there then blackmailed into handing over cash to prevent the footage's release.

Police have advised the public to be wary of unsolicited requests over internet communications and to be careful what information they share.

Police are warning internet users to be wary of an email scam asking for money to be forwarded to a friend or relative who is in need.

Detective Constable Stephen Crooks, of the PSNI’s Economic Crime Unit, said: "These emails appear to be very convincing however do not be fooled into giving out personal or banking details via email. Be sceptical, if something is suspicious about the correspondence, it usually is a scam.”

He added: “The threat of fraud, both online and offline against the public is a constant focus for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“Scammers and fraudsters are inventive and the schemes they use are varied but the aim remains the same - to take money from unsuspecting members of the public. We all need to be vigilant of any contact from an unsolicited source, whether that is from doorstep callers, telephone, mail or online. Education is our best weapon, preventing people from becoming victims.”

Police would urge people receiving scam emails to report them.

The reports received by Action Fraud will be forwarded to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau run by the City of London Police for collation and analysis. This will enable crucial intelligence to be gathered and preventative action to be taken. The activity will seek to disrupt the fraudsters and close down the links between them and the victim.

Last year (January 2015 – December 2015) we received on average 8,000 reports per month, with 96,699 people reporting that they had received a phishing scam.

What should you do if you’ve received a scam email?

  • Do not click on any links in the scam email.
  • Do not reply to the email or contact the senders in any way.
  • If you have clicked on a link in the email, do not supply any information on the website that may open.
  • Do not open any attachments that arrive with the email.
  • If you think you may have compromised the safety of your bank details and/or have lost money due to fraudulent misuse of your cards, you should immediately contact your bank.

If you've been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud. Fake emails often (but not always) display some of the following characteristics:

  • The sender’s email address doesn’t tally with the trusted organisation’s website address.
  • The email is sent from a completely different address or a free web mail address.
  • The email does not use your proper name, but uses a non-specific greeting like “dear customer”.
  • A sense of urgency; for example the threat that unless you act immediately your account may be closed.
  • A prominent website link. These can be forged or seem very similar to the proper address, but even a single character’s difference means a different website.
  • A request for personal information such as user name, password or bank details.
  • The email contains spelling and grammatical errors.
  • You weren't expecting to get an email from the company that appears to have sent it.
  • The entire text of the email is contained within an image rather than the usual text format.
  • The image contains an embedded hyperlink to a bogus site.

If you want to report a scam contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 20 40 or www.actionfraud.police.uk.

To download a copy of the ‘Know the signs, stop the crime’ scams leaflet visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call freephone 0800 121 6022 for a free copy. For general advice on how to stay safe online, visit www.GetSafeOnline.org.

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