“Hi, I hope you are not busy?” The words “Sent from my iPhone” were at the bottom of the message, suggesting urgency. It hit the inbox of the treasurer of an Icelandic soccer club late in the afternoon. Banks were about to close. After a series of exchanges, the club manager asked that a quick payment be made to the message’s sender. Only—the need wasn’t what it seemed to be. It was a scam—one among many in a sudden surge of online fraud that is catching Icelanders off guard.
Most citizens of Iceland aren’t as cautious online as people in other wealthy, high-tech countries. They haven’t had to be.
Until now, Iceland has stayed out of the crosshairs of computer cons. Limits to money transfers out of the country made Iceland unappealing to scam artists. The country’s complex language was too hard for computer apps to translate accurately. But as artificial intelligence improved, translation apps did too. By 2018, Google Translate and Microsoft’s Translator were good enough at duplicating Icelandic to be utilized. Criminals began to sound credible. That happened only months after the government removed limits on foreign money transfers. It was as if scammers had been waiting for the day, police say.
The number of online fraud cases in 2019 is six times higher than the previous year. Sadly, victims rarely get their money back.
In most developed countries, people learn to be a bit suspicious online. They’ve seen others around them defrauded or hurt by messages with malicious software. But Iceland’s isolation has made the sudden scam exposure more painful.
Icelanders take pride in their small community. Surveys show that Iceland is among the happiest nations. It touts one of the highest levels of “social trust.” Icelanders in general believe in each other and in honesty and integrity. They also value self-sufficiency. Cyberattacks threaten to erode both social trust and independence for them.
Knowing the reality and the dangers of online schemes is important. The Bible reminds us to be careful stewards of what God has given us. “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless,” says Proverbs 14:16. Jesus also told His followers to be “innocent” as well as “shrewd” or cunning. (Matthew 10:16 NIV)
Icelander Kristján Ásgeirsson fell for a swindle. He lost $68,000 when his inbox was hacked. “It can happen to everyone,” he says, before pausing and revising his statement: “It is happening to everyone.”