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PM's cyber hygiene and avoiding the scams

Angela Catterns
21 April 2016

By Angela Catterns

Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull launched the National Cyber Security Strategy. 

While stressing that he wants Australia to lead the world in cyber security, he offered a reminder that “We all need to pay more attention to cyber safety – to cyber hygiene if you like - securing our devices and protecting them with appropriate credentials. We should regularly update our passwords … and we must pay special attention to unusual looking links in emails and other communications - because, chances are, if something looks suspicious, it probably is.”

The PM’s words reminded me of the time when my cyber hygiene was less than spotless and I very nearly fell for an email scam.

“Gods blessing Angela, we hope this message meets you in good health. I am Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Diocese of Christ the King, South Africa. On behalf of the Church, I am elated to inform you that we would love to engage your services to speak and educate our congregation at our forthcoming seminar”. The email concluded with the charming sign-off “Remain Blessed”.

I googled the good Archbishop. He looked like a gracious African man of the cloth. Naturally, I had a few questions for him, “How did he know of me? Why choose me?”

“You were fingered to speak at this event on the recommendation of our outreach program member” he wrote,  “and after checking your credentials and reading blogs about you, we received the Lords direction to invite you to speak in this event.” 

When I read I’d been “fingered” a faint alarm bell started to ring, but I ignored it and questioned again “why me”?

He replied, “We have our reasons for inviting you Angela and we believe you are perfect for this event”.

Ok then. 

“Can we then proceed with this engagement?” he wrote. “I will have the events committee get in touch with you as they are in charge of planning logistics for this event, Ed is the president of the committee. He will get across to you.”

By now, I’m looking at the weather in Cape Town and wondering what I’ll say to a large group of South African church-goers. It’ll be a new experience for me, but I’m already coming up with ideas for my keynote address. 

And surely I’ll be able to tack a few days onto the end of the trip. A safari in Kruger National Park perhaps?  A sailing trip to pay homage to Sir Francis Chichester?

The whole experience was starting to sound life changing!

Before long, I received the email from the Events Committee, as promised.

“Thank you Angela for corresponding with us.  First, let me express our gratitude to you for accepting our invitation to be our Guest Speaker at this year's conference, May God forever be with you.” And on it went, “We have attached a formal Letter of Invitation and a contract agreement.

Please return a copy of the contract agreement duly signed by you. Print it out, sign and scan back to us.

Please do get across your Work Permit in South Africa so the deposit can be approved according to our mandated regulation. If you do not have the work permit please let us know so we can make arrangements for the documents to be processed quickly as the event is at hand.”

This email was signed by Ed Smart, but there was a scanned signature at the bottom of the page, which looked like it said Pat Smithers. What the...?

Now the alarm bells were positively clanging in my ears.

I rang the South African High Commission in Canberra to enquire about whether or not I needed a work permit. They smelled a big fat rat. 

It wasn’t hard to find the phone number of the office of the real Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. I can’t believe I didn’t call them before. When I told them the story they were shocked and horrified and notified the police immediately. 

This elaborate scam began about 4 years ago in the UK and I have the distinction of being one of the first Australians to be targeted. It’s known as the UK Work Permit Church Scam for Speakers and continues unabated. 

Flattered and excited, I came within a whisker of sending the scammers my signature and bank account details. 

The PM will be pleased to know my cyber hygiene has improved as a result.

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