Cybercrime in Lebanon more than doubled in 2015 as hackers find new ways to enter into bank accounts and illicitly transfer money into their own pockets, the head of the Special Investigation Commission warned Thursday. Speaking at a news conference on cybercrime at the Central Bank, Abdul Hafiz Mansour revealed that this phenomenon increased to 84 cases in 2015 from 51 in 2014, estimating the total value of these illegal practices at $12 million in the previous year alone.
He stressed that the Central Bank is committed to taking important measures in 2016 to minimize the dangers associated with monetary cyber transactions.
“Cybercrimes have been continuously increasing in the past three years and hackers are using untraditional instruments to steal money from depositors’ accounts in Lebanese banks which necessitates serious measures by financial institutions to avoid such incidents.”
Mansour added that the Central Bank would be issuing a circular to advise banks on the necessary precautionary measures aimed at minimizing these crimes.
The conference was held in cooperation with the unit for fighting cybercrimes at the internal security forces and Al Iktissad Wal Aamal.
The conference, which took place at the Central Bank, aimed at discussing measures that will be adopted in the near future in a bid to fight cybercrimes in Lebanon.
In its efforts to fight cybercrimes, the Central Bank’s strategy for 2016 includes the launching of a guide that contains advices to the public on ways to avoid falling victims of such crimes.
“We will also work on conducting interviews in the Lebanese media with bankers and representatives from the internal security forces to create awareness on the need to avoid suspicious transactions that could lead to cybercrimes,” he said.
Mansour advised that the best way to avoid such crimes is to take precautionary measures since it is very hard to recover the stolen funds. “We are dealing with a virtual world when it comes to cybercrimes, and this is why the best way to prevent the occurrence of such incidents whether by the banks or clients is by taking precautionary measures,” he said.
Mansour noticed that sometimes banks take the orders of transfer by emails for granted and transfer the money to the destination mentioned in these messages. “Some depositors do not check their bank account regularly and if they do they will notice that certain amount of their money has been taken,” he said during a previous interview with The Daily Star.
Mansour explained that clients fall into this trap because they sometimes get in contact via the Internet with hackers instead of communicating with real traders and business partners. “They also make money transfers through banks to hackers and not to their business partners,” he said. “Clients should make sure that the money is transferred to the right people,” he added.
Mansour said that among the actions that will be taken by the Central Bank are workshops in the first quarter of this year attended by bankers, academic and financial experts to discuss best practices to fight cybercrimes and issue recommendations for this purpose.
“We will also be preparing for the new cybercrime forum which will take place by the end of this year,” he said.
For his part, Lebanese Internal Security Forces Maj. Suzan El Hajj reiterated the great commitment by the ISF in cooperation with the special investigation committee at the central bank to ensure safe money transfer transactions.
Hajj said a channel was created between the committee for fighting cybercrime at the ISF and the special investigation committee at the central bank through the state’s prosecution office allowing the lifting of banking secrecy on hackers’ accounts in any country in the world. “This enables the victim to identify the identity of the hacker, which helps him in turn to file a complaint to the judicial system and take a court ruling for him to retrieve his money,” she said.
Hajj said this partnership resulted in a positive outcome. “We could do nothing in the past if money was hacked. But today we can at least identify the hacker and help the victim retrieve his money in some cases,” she said.
Hajj added that this new channel created between the Internal Security Forces and the special investigation committee helped Lebanon in at least receiving replies for all the complaints it is filing when it comes to cybercrimes. “We are aware that the process is long but at least we are getting replies to our complaints.”
By Dana Halawi
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