Success of phone scams highlights digital danger

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am

One of the greatest drawbacks of the digital age is the indiscriminate nature in which both public and personal information can be accessed and disseminated. Personal information has been made more readily accessible for public and sometimes nefarious use than ever before. Personal details being used for marketing purposes has already become a bane on all our lives and now there are signs of them being increasingly used for criminal activity as well.

Last week, the police highlighted the increasing success rate of phone scams which appear to have originated from the mainland. At first, the gullibility of the victims of the scam seems beyond belief. The perpetrators appear to have done nothing more than pretend to be a relative from the mainland and ask for money on the phone. And yet victims have lost as much as 420,000 yuan (HK$494,000) through this method - in the past three months there were 306 reports of such scams.

The success rate highlights how our assumptions of privacy have failed to adapt to the times. Victims were partly persuaded into thinking the perpetrators were close friends or family based on the fact they had knowledge of their personal mobile numbers and their names. The scammers then developed upon that initial credit of trust before requesting money. But in this day and age a complete stranger can easily get hold of personal information such as names, phone numbers, place of birth and professional status. Every time we use a digital device, traces of such information are left behind.

To a certain extent, law enforcement agencies are responsible for our security, but at the same time our own vigilance is the best prevention of crimes such as these. Ideally, we would all be able to benefit from the age of information without leaving personal data exposed. But in practice it is best we get used to the fact that what was once regarded as personal data can now be easily accessed by the public. When a voice or message greets you with familiarity on the other end of a personal line, it is just as likely that it is the voice of a stranger as that of a genuine friend.