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«Phishing fraud can hit anyone»

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Phishing is one of the most widespread fraud schemes on the Internet. AXA, too, receives daily notifications from customers who have fallen victim to various phishing schemes. One of them is Claudine Berger* from Lausanne: She was scammed by cyber criminals out of CHF 13,000. 

A table of cherry wood and an Eames lounge chair: They were supposed to find a new home via a sales platform. Claudine Berger auctioned two pieces of furniture on a sales platform – and an interested buyer contacted her just a few days later. “The young woman identified herself as Caroline DaSilva from Versoix. She asked me for my cell phone number and contacted me via WhatsApp. I didn’t think anything of it,” Berger explains.

Fake Swiss Post link 

She asked several questions in the chat regarding the furniture and about pick-up – and then sent her a link. Berger wasn’t the least bit suspicious: “The interested party was friendly and communicated in perfect French. She wrote me that I could initiate delivery by Swiss Post easily and conveniently using the link. I thought that was really nice, especially because I was responsible for the delivery and the associated costs – and this way I didn’t have to spend so much time looking into it and was able to save time.”

“In retrospect, I ask myself why I wasn’t suspicious – after all, you constantly read about new phishing tricks. But like everyone else, I thought that can’t happen to me.”

Claudine Berger, AXA customer

Fake page was almost perfect 

The 30-year-old from the French-speaking part of Switzerland entered her credit card details on the fake Swiss Post page. In fact, she even entered details for two different cards because the first supposedly didn’t work. “The fake page was really well done. Nothing caught my eye that made me think something was off. And I am absolutely aware of cybercrime – especially through my job as a software engineer,” Berger emphasizes.  

CHF 13,000 charged  

Especially insidious: Unbeknown to Berger, during the entire fraudulent transaction, she sent her questions to a chatbot and got plausible responses in return. In this way, cyber criminals got remote access to her PostFinance account and were able to withdraw money from various accounts.  “In the end it was CHF 13,000, which is a crazy amount of money,” the 30-year-old adds. “At first, I was really shocked. What was so disconcerting was that my data continued to circulate around the Internet. It was only after I contacted the customer support of my bank because of a technical problem that I realized it was fraud.” 

Good fortune in disguise 

Claudine Berger took out private cyber insurance around two years ago. AXA supported her in the following steps, in contacting her banks, and ultimately covered the entire financial loss. As in most cases, it was not possible to identify the cyber criminals.

*The name of the customer has been changed at their request, but is known to AXA.

“I am really glad that AXA covered the massive financial loss. I still shop online, but I have become much more careful. Talking to Delia Moore from from the Customer Service AXA Cyber Prevention Services also really helped me and gave me security."

Claudine Berger, AXA customer

Five questions for Delia Moore, Head of Customer Service of AXA Cyber Prevention Services

Ms. Moore, how often do phishing victims contact you?

I hear of such cases of fraud on an almost daily basis. Phishing is a huge issue: Sometimes they tempt victims with a one-time, highly profitable investment. Sometimes there is a lucrative job offer, or they are urgently requested to change their passwords. Clicking on the link provided invariably leads to victims entering personal data and suffering a financial loss. What aggravates the issue further is that the customer can be accused of negligent behavior and their bank can exclude any liability. The scams employed by Internet fraudsters are becoming more and more sophisticated. From my experience, I can tell you: Anyone can fall victim. Increased awareness and caution on the Internet are important. 

How were you able to help Ms. Berger? 

First, I ensured together with our customer that all affected bank and credit cards were blocked and the passwords for these accounts and cards were changed. For me, setting up two-factor authentication is always a really important step. 

I was able to help Claudine Berger report the fraudulently withdrawn amounts to her banks since we are only able to start processing the damage after the banks become involved. It was immediately clear to her why the mistakes happened. However, I was able to give her several tips with regard to prevention for the future. 

In a second appointment, I worked with Ms Berger to set up the automatic monitoring of her emails, telephone number, and credit cards linked with her personal profile with AXA Cyber Prevention Services. It was first apparent to her in the meeting that the automatic monitoring of her personal data on the Internet is a component of AXA cyber insurance – after that, she felt much better protected. 

Of course, it was also a big relief for her that the financial loss was fully covered by AXA.

What does "phishing" mean?

Phishing, comes from the English word “fishing” and describes a kind of scam employed by cyber criminals. In most cases, the goal is to access your money or your personal details.

In doing so, falsified emails (traditional phishing), text messages, messages sent via WhatsApp, iMessage, or WeChat (smishing), or calls (vishing) are used to tempt you to visit fraudulent websites. There, they try to get you to enter your credit card data in online forms or to open infiltrated documents in your inbox.  

The financial loss is one thing. But most victims are also left feeling anxious. What kind of psychological support do you offer? 

Particularly in the first meeting, many customers are still in shock and often they are not even 100% sure what happened to them. In such cases, it is important to just listen and understand how the fraudsters proceeded in the case in question. First, we start with really listening to the victim so as to piece together what has happened and gain mutual understanding of the particular case of cybercrime. This is followed by our support services – ranging from immediate measures such as changing passwords to the settlement of financial claims. In especially severe cases, we organize professional psychological support within 12 hours.  

How do preventative cyber measures offer protection in the case of phishing or smishing? 

When AXA customers receive phishing emails or text messages, they can either contact us at the Customer Service directly or check the dubious correspondence themselves for reliability in their personal cyber prevention platform. Moreover, we regularly send warnings regarding current fraud trends. Our goal is to help our customers be “bulletproof” on the Internet. 

Have you yourself ever fallen victim to phishing?  

Thankfully no, but this is not a given. I only started taking the essential preventative security measures when I started working at AXA Cyber Prevention Services. It was important to me to be an example for my customers. This makes my advice more authentic and convincing. Specifically, this means that I have unique, complicated passwords and two-factor authentication set up for everything.  

How can I protect myself against phishing attacks? 

In the deluge of emails and chats, it isn’t always easy to assess messages correctly. To recognize phishing attacks, you need to be cautious and apply a healthy dose of common sense.  

What you should keep in mind: 

1. Spelling mistakes 

In the past, phishing emails were often riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. This was because many messages were translated by substandard translation programs from other languages into English. However, these services are much more advanced today – especially DeepL – and produce text with hardly any errors. 

2. Deadlines and non-existent authorities 

To achieve their goals, cyber criminals often use psychological tricks, also known as social engineering. In doing so, they present themselves as authorities and contact you on behalf of a well-known company, or put pressure on you with tight deadlines or limited-time offers. The goal is always the same: The potential victims are urged to do or disclose something that would cause them damage.  

3. Caution with attached files and links in social media 

Never open an attachment in an email from senders you don’t know. These could have Trojans and infiltrate your system.  

Even if a friend or colleague asks you for your number in a chat or sends a link without comment, exercise caution, as it could be malware.

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4. Unknown URL 

Before you enter your log-in data, check the URL of the website and whether it is encrypted. If the connection is secure, then it will have “https” instead of “http” at the beginning of the address. Moreover, the Internet browser will have a lock symbol in the address line, which indicates an encrypted and thus secure connection. Never enter your log-in data through a link in an email. Instead, always go directly to the website of the provider. 

5. Personal data 

Banks and online retailers generally don’t send any emails to ask you to update your personal data. If you receive such a message, we urgently advise you to go to the website of the provider (enter the web address yourself in the browser) and log in there. If you are unsure, you can move the mouse over the link in the email – this way you can see where the link actually leads to. Moreover, it is important to make sure the web address is written correctly (e.g. “payppal.com” instead of “paypal.com”). 

It is important that you only disclose your credit card information on a website if you are absolutely sure that it is reliable. If websites promise you gifts or money, you should be careful and examine them with a critical eye. 

6. Change passwords regularly 

You should change your passwords every 30 to 45 days. If passwords remain valid for an indefinite amount of time, cyber criminals have unlimited access to a compromised account. 

Find out more in our blog article ”The best tips for a secure password.” 

7. Two-factor authentication  

Two-factor authentication has become increasingly important. Especially for e-banking, it ensures that a payment is only released after it has been approved a second time. 2FA or two-factor authentication is a method for identity verification that requires you to select a second log-in method in addition to your password or enter two authentication factors instead of a password to access a website, application, or network.

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