Press release: Victims of ‘Fake’ Websites Should Press Criminal Charges, Urges ISPA
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) says victims of Internet crime perpetrated via ‘fake’ websites designed to mirror legitimate e-commerce businesses should not take the con lying down.
“ISPA urges victims of web-related fraud to go to their local police station to press criminal charges. Whether the alleged crime was committed in the real or virtual world makes no difference. It is only by taking the time and making the effort to report online criminal acts that South Africans can begin the process of turning around the explosion in cybercrime in the country,” said Dominic Cull, ISPA regulatory advisor.
Cull explained that ISPA has learnt that local Internet users are being asked to pay for goods advertised on what look like above board online electronics stores. Often a bogus “customs agent” or “courier” calls the would-be customer to say they have to pay a “refundable deposit” to have their goods released at the border. Once payments are made, the goods never arrive, and contact details listed on the online stores simply don’t work.
Often there are no specific characteristics to distinguish “fake” websites from legitimate ones, and it is easy enough for criminals to set up fake websites using easily available software. Fake sites look similar to real ones and even have identical logos. Common sense should be exercised, with web surfers understanding that deals that look too good to be true, are inevitably the most suspicious.
“Common sense is your best defence”, says Cull.
ISPA suggests that victims of online crime take the following steps (based on ISPA’s experience of dealing with cybercrime and SAPS):
- Draft as short and as simple an affidavit as possible which sets out why you believe a criminal act has taken place (you may want to obtain legal assistance to do this). The affidavit should:
- Set out the identity and contact details of the complainant;
- If available, set out the identity and contact details of the alleged perpetrator;
- Set out the facts which led to the complaint being lodged and refer to or incorporate any available evidence such as IP addresses and log files;
- Make a clear statement that you wish the matter to be investigated further and to be kept informed of process.
- Lodge this affidavit with your local police station. Be patient and polite at all times. Due to their workload and priorities the desk officer may not want to receive your complaint: be insistent (politely) and ask for the matter to be escalated internally.
- Ensure that you obtain a reference or CAS number. This is critical in allowing you to follow the matter up.
- According to internal SAPS procedure, your complaint should be referred to a duty detective within 24 hours. If possible obtain the name and contact details of this detective, either when lodging the complaint or when following up at a later time.
- Request that the complaint be escalated to the SAPS cybercrime division as soon as possible. Typically the duty detective should recognise that the he or she is not able to investigate the matter and refer it to the cybercrime division.
- You will need to accept that it is up to you to follow-up and create pressure for the matter to be handled professionally – it is not going to be sufficient to go through the motions of lodging a complaint without actively pursuing the matter.
Most South Africans are not aware that the SAPS has some excellent personnel and resources for fighting cybercrime. Unfortunately these are generally not available at your local police station where you have to lay the complaint and that is why it is critical to make sure it is escalated to the right people. Nevertheless, the more complaints that are lodged and pursued, the easier the process should become at local police station level.
Over the past few years there have been an increasing number of convictions in South African courts for cybercrimes. There is also a process under way to increase the penalties which may be imposed.
For further information, please contact the ISPA secretariat on the Contact ISPA page.