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Email scams rampant on the web

In light of cyber-security month and reported sextortion email scams, protecting yourself online is as important as ever before

Langara students working in a comouter lab. Photo by: Patrick Penner
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Reported by Patrick Penner

A sextortion email scam is targeting email accounts and convincing users they’ve been hacked.

October is Cyber-Security month at Langara. The recent scam is an important reminder to maintain safe web practices.

The sextortion email, which contains a password familiar to the targeted user, claims malware has infiltrated their system and tracked visits to pornographic sites. The email threatens to publicize the footage unless a “confidentiality fee” is received.

On Sept. 27, a Langara instructor received one of these emails. The sender demanded $3,000 and threatened to release screenshots documenting visits to porn sites if payment wasn’t received.

Langara’s I.T. Department launched an investigation, and the instructor lost access to email and Brightspace for six days, making it temporarily impossible for students to contact her.

Email scams getting tougher to crack

According to Sgt. Jason Doucette, the Vancouver police department’s public affairs officer, cyber-criminals are getting increasingly sophisticated in the way they target their victims.

“Unfortunately, these scam artists are only limited by their imagination,” Doucette said.

“Once we’re on to them, they’re on to the next thing.”

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there have been 997 cases of attempted extortion via email reported so far in 2018.

The assistant chair of Langara’s computer science department, Joe Huang, said that anyone can be targeted. According to Huang, scammers manage multiple schemes, potentially targeting hundreds of users simultaneously.

“[The scams are] just a crap-shoot to throw things out there, and hope that somebody gets caught,” Huang said.

Huang says the best way to guard against being a victim is to delete emails that are from unfamiliar sources.

“If you don’t pay attention to it, then it shouldn’t hurt you,” Huang said.

Students take precautions

Langara student Joey Osborne said he tries to be careful.

One of the things experts say is to not use simple passwords or passwords that can be easily figured out.

Osborne says he uses the same “set of complicated numbers and letters” for his password. He has never been hacked.

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