These fraudsters have a particularly attractive platform for sophisticated fraud schemes with the ever-evolving internet. § 263a of the German Criminal Code (StGB) focuses on computer-related crime. The offence reads as follows:
“Whoever, with the intention of obtaining an unlawful pecuniary benefit for themselves or a third party, damages the property of another by influencing the result of a data processing operation by incorrectly configuring the computer program, using incorrect or incomplete data, making unauthorised use of data or taking other unauthorised influence on the processing operation incurs a penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine.”
It is also a criminal offence to manufacture, sell and provide computer programs designed for computer fraud.
Internet and computer scams can be very sophisticated and cause significant damage. But fraudsters often rely on their victims to be ashamed and not report the fraud. Therefore, it is essential to realise there is no shame in falling for a scam.
Working with an experienced fraud lawyer and the authorities is the right action. At least as important is competent legal advice if you, as the accused, are charged with such fraud. Due to the complexity and the constantly evolving technical structures, it can quickly happen that the investigation authorities draw the wrong conclusion due to a lack of knowledge, resulting in misunderstandings that must be clarified at all costs.
Such Internet scams are often highly complex. However, almost all try to grab potential victims by their personal needs or hopes. Here are just a few of the methods used to perpetrate computer fraud:
- Phishing emails involve people receiving emails that look like they come from a bank or an online shop. The links they contain lead to fake websites where access data is requested. The aim is to obtain necessary personal data from the victim. Once a fraudster has received the data, he can use it, for example, to access bank accounts and thus cause financial damage to the victim.
- Fake charities: Fraudsters set up fake websites for charities. Donations made through these websites are then sent to the fraudster and not to the specific charity. You should always check the legitimacy of donating to a particular charity through a website. Research the organisation beforehand and make sure it is an official website. Scammers’ websites often look professional and reputable, so many people are fooled by their design. Mainly, be wary that the organisation does not issue donation receipts or puts you under considerable time pressure to donate.
- Dating websites (“catfishing” or “love scamming” ): This form of fraud involves creating fake profiles on social media, especially on dating websites and partner exchanges, for fraudulent purposes. Through these, the perpetrator contacts the victim explicitly and builds up a virtual relationship over a more extended period, mainly limited to chat dialogues but sometimes also involving telephone calls. As soon as the “relationship” seems intimate enough, the perpetrator starts demanding money – for gifts or some form of travel ticket. Dramatic accidents are often invented, and requests are made to pay high medical costs. Sometimes, the fraudster tries to convince the victim to transfer money to a third party. It is not uncommon for such acts to be linked to money laundering.
- Malware and ransomware: In cases of malware, the fraudster sends links to the victim, which, once opened, infects the computer with malicious malware. This malware makes it possible to spy on personal and sensitive data, which can then be used to access bank accounts. Similarly, ransomware is a form of malware that blocks computer use. Once the encryption has taken place, the victim is blackmailed; only after complying with the instructions, which usually demand money, is the encryption removed again.
- Fake flat advertisements: The fraudsters also shamelessly exploit the housing shortage. To do so, they advertise particularly attractive and cheap rental flats, which they promise the prospective tenant. Before sending the tenancy agreement, the first demand is an advance payment in a deposit of the first rent payment. Once this has been received, the promised sending of the contract does not occur.
The above are some of the most common types of fraud we have encountered. For these frauds, prison sentences of up to three years are not uncommon.
Once the fraudster has obtained the victim’s personal information through phishing or other means, they can use this information to conduct transactions under the victim’s name. The fraudster can access various online services with a person’s date of birth, maiden name or internet passwords and commit identity theft.