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Bank account scammers increasingly target teens in phishing attempts

09:10 30/11/2022

As the number of cyberthreats faced by those living in Belgium continues to rise, young adults and adolescents are finding themselves increasingly targeted.

The number of cyberthreats in Belgium rose by 440% in the week leading up to Black Friday, according to a recent survey from SurfShark, a privacy protection company.

Belgium has a threat rate of 40, which is 149% higher than the global average, the company found.

But while stereotypes abound regarding the vulnerability of older and less digitally-savvy adults when it comes to cyberthreats, young people are now becoming prime targets.

Attempts to defraud bank accounts and cards have affected twice as many Belgians as a year ago, Le Soir reports, and social media networks that are popular with young people are turning into recruiting grounds for scammers.

Financial sector federation Febelfin warns that messages are being sent via Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, hoping to scam young people. In some cases, targets are even approached on the street.

Scams include investment fraud, bill fraud or people pretending to need help with finances that result in theft. Sometimes people are asked to register their financial data on a fraudulent website that looks similar to their bank’s official one, for example to replace a supposedly expired card.

The aim is generally to either steal the victim’s money or to “wash” dirty money using the victim as a mule.

An estimated 71% of Belgians over the age of 16 have been confronted with a phishing message in the last six months, according to a study carried out on a representative sample of 2,164 people.

That is twice as many as a year ago (34%), and 8% of those affected have fallen for a scam, a percentage that rises to 11% for the 16-30 age group.

Young adults seem to be ideal targets for phishing, with 25% of them saying they have never even heard of the scam and 13% admitting they are ready to give their PIN and card number if their bank asks them (a bank will never ask a customer for this information outside of a secure transaction), compared to 3% of 31-79 year olds.

“The digital natives, who use their smartphones very frequently, are in fact not very well-educated in the protection of their personal data online,” said Isabelle Marchand, spokeswomanfor Febelfin.

An estimated 16% of 16-30 year olds say they would not be against lending their card and bank code to someone they don't know in exchange for money, which would make them a “financial mule” for criminals looking to launder illegally obtained funds.

One in 10 young people say they have already been approached by such criminals (compared to 6% last year).

“Almost eight out of 10 teenagers do not know what a financial mule is, which is a problem in itself and makes them particularly easy targets,” said Febelfin.

The federation collected testimonies from children and parents for a campaign to raise awareness of the problem.

“The scams are of two types: either the recruitment is done via videos and messages on social networks such as Snapchat and TikTok, or live in party places, near train stations and around schools,” they report.

Beyond the potential financial consequences of having their own money potentially stolen, a mule can be held responsible for money laundering, meaning they risk heavy fines and even a prison sentence, along with compromised banking relationships for life.

Written by Helen Lyons