PRIVATE Facebook accounts have been hijacked and used to sell everything from drills to bikes, police said. 

Det Insp Ian Magrath, who leads the Wiltshire Police digital investigations and intelligence unit and complex fraud team, said officers had seen the tactic used “several times in the last couple of months”.

“Your account is effectively taken over and people then use your profile to sell Makita drills, a bike or a lawnmower,” he told the Adver.

He urged people to ensure they used different passwords and make sure they were changing them regularly. 

The detective warned: “You can go onto the Dark Web – not even the Dark Web, you can go onto the web – and buy lists and lists of passwords that are dumped onto the internet. 

“People who are into cyber crime will just look to offset these against particular accounts. 

“We’re all creatures of habit, we all use the same passwords, unfortunately, so once you’ve got the key to one you’ve got keys to the whole kingdom.”

The warning came as new figures released last week showed a 12 per cent increase in Wiltshire in the number of fraud and computer offences referred to a national fraud unit by Action Fraud in the 12 months to December 2020. 

Between January and December last year, more than 4,300 reports were referred to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau from Wiltshire. That was still lower than the figures for all south west police forces except Gloucestershire. 

Det Insp Magrath said of the rise: “I think a lot of it is to do with the covid situation. There have been more and more people working from home; there are more and more reports in the paper when you pick it up. 

“From a cyber side, [regionally and nationally we] have seen an increase in ransomware over the past 12 months. That’s becoming more common place. That’s all sectors – private, corporate, educational.”

This week, Ireland’s healthcare system was hit by a ransomware attack that resulted in systems being shut down. Hackers targeted US oil firm Colonial Pipeline’s network this month, threatening to result in price hikes and shortages at the pumps. 

It’s not just hackers. Other cyber frauds have increased in number during the pandemic.  

Det Insp Magrath said: “There are significantly more [reports of] people’s private data being targeted and then that data is being exfiltrated and potentially used for social engineering – those phone calls purporting to be the bank, your money’s fake, or someone from an internet provider saying there’s an issue with your network.”

Last week, the Wiltshire fraud squad arrested five men in connection with alleged scam calls. A gang was said to have been calling people, pretending they were from the police and asking for help investigating fraud in banks or other organisations.

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