a self-help forum to combat cyber fraud

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UdeM’s Cybercriminology Clinic has set up, a site where members of the public help each other fight cyber fraud., Canada’s first community cyber fraud reporting platform, was developed by Université de Montréal's Cybercriminology Clinic to encourage people to help each other fight what is a growing scourge. The response from the public has been strong.

"We began testing the site in April to iron out the bugs and make sure we could handle the traffic," said the clinic's co-founder Benoît Dupont, an UdeM criminology professor and research chairholder for the prevention of cybercrime.

"Since then, we’ve had over 5,000 new visitors to the site per month."

It was all done with no advertising, he added. “The platform is well indexed on the search engines, so people find us by doing keyword searches related to cyber fraud, often after falling prey to it."

So many victims

The idea of creating the free platform sprang up after the cybercriminology clinic was launched last December.

"Initially, we wanted to give cyber fraud victims personalized support, but we soon realized there were so many that we’d never be able to meet the demand," said Dupont. "So we decided to develop a platform where people can help one another."

Criminology students who have received training in victim assistance moderate the community and, in some cases, lend a hand. The information posted by users is always checked by the clinic’s analysts.

The site covers all types of cyber fraud, including phishing by email or text, phone scams, lonelyhearts scams and cryptocurrency scams. "Some are on a small scale while others may con 100 or 1,000 people," said Dupont. "What we're also seeing is that the fraudsters move fast; they keep updating their schemes."

Getting support on the site

Users can visit the website anonymously or create an account and get email alerts if someone comments on their post.

"Fraud victims come to the site and see that others have experienced the same kind of situation, so they feel less alone," said Dupont. "They’re told not to feel ashamed, not to stay in their shell, to tell their friends and family. They get support on the site and then realize their experience can help others. So they don’t stay confined in victimhood."

The site also has an algorithm that can determine the type of fraud the user experienced and suggest relevant resources. "For example, we’ll provide a to-do list and organizations to contact following an incident," said Dupont. "We also give tips on what you can do to protect yourself in the future."

For more complex cases that require more than peer support and documentation, experts are on hand to provide personalized help.

The website also works closely with law enforcement. "We don’t want to encroach on their territory," said Dupont. "We’ll recommend that victims file a police report, if necessary."

Expecting a surge

Efforts are now being made to publicize the platform and Dupont is expecting a surge in traffic. "We estimate there are over one million cyber fraud victims in Quebec every year, so we think we may get tens or thousands of even hundreds of thousands of visits annually," he said.

Since cyber fraud affects people with varying levels of computer literacy, the site’s content is designed to be accessible to all. "This is key," said Dupont. "We have to bear in mind that being a cyber fraud victim is very stressful and can temporarily compromise people’s cognitive abilities, so we make our content very clear and easy to understand."

For now, the platform is French-only.

"We’re thinking about offering content in other languages such as Vietnamese, Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish, for the benefit of other communities," said Dupont. "We’re not going to add English at this point because there's already so much online information available in English – for example, on the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre site."

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