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Rio Olympics expected to be a cybercrime bonanza

If you were to guess which country was the world leader in several categories of cybercrime, you probably wouldn't think Brazil. But cybercrime took a big spike during Brazil's World Cup and experts fear that during the Rio Olympics thousands of unwary tourists will be fleeced.

Brazen criminals, weak law enforcement give Brazil the gold medal in online scams

Graziela di Giorgio uses a computer at a Rio de Janeiro internet cafe. She says her credit card was cloned. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Like all too many Brazilians, Graziela di Giorgio clicked where she shouldn't have. And just like that, her credit card was cloned.

"Many problems," she says. She points to her screen. Nestled between emails from her niece are more fishy messages.

"Bank," she says, "mostly bank scams." She clicks on a button that will report the email as a phishing attempt. But with the volume of scams she receives, she's not convinced it's helping.

At this internet cafe in Copacabana, the cybercriminals aren't always off in cyberspace. The owner, Jaime Quadros, says they'll often come in and sit for hours.

"They're listening to people's conversations," Quadros says, "trying to get as much information as they can."

When you think cybercrime, you probably think of Russia, or maybe China. But when it comes to banking scams and phishing, according to a recent report by the cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, Brazil ranks No. 1.

"Brazil is one of the biggest sources of all kinds of financial malware, which is basically designed to steal credit card information, accounts and other information which is directly related to money," says Dmitry Bestuzhev of Kaspersky.

He says Brazilians love email. And they love to share, which makes life easy for cybercriminals.

"For Brazil, everything starts with the email," Bestuzhev says. "They love email as the main threat, so they prepare messages, like all kind of messages. Fake messages, of course, from the traffic tickets, nude pictures, failed payments, anything World Cup, Olympic Games and they send that messages along with the malicious attachments." 
Nathan Thompson, who studies cybercrime for the Igarape Institute, says Olympic tourists should be warned about the high levels of cybercrime in Rio. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

Another common Brazilian scam is the banco boleto.

"It's like a phishing scam," says Nathan Thompson, who studies cybercrime for Brazil's Igarape Institute. "And instead of paying your phone bill you're paying somebody else." 

Installing illegal readers in bank machines? That's old school. Bestuszhev says Brazilian criminals often install a whole fake machine on top of a real one.

"So everything is fake," Bestuszhev says. "The keypad is fake, the reader, the screen is just like a glass so you can see the real ATM. Very scary, no chance basically to check if that ATM is real or not."

Many Brazilian cybercriminals are so brazen, they boast about their exploits, posing as 21st-century Robin Hoods.

"They don't have shame," Bestuszhev says. "They want to have a public presence. They build public profiles on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, they upload even videos showing their cars, guns, their lifestyle, and they basically are just saying, 'What can you do with me?'" 

That's because Brazilian cybercrime laws are notoriously lax.
Alessandro Theirs, head of Rio's Cybercrime unit, announces the arrest of several cybercriminals. But they hardly ever do jail time, he says. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"Criminals are doing their own cost-benefit analysis and saying, 'Even if I get caught, chances that I'm going to serve a lot of time for this are not great,'" Thompson says.

Even those whose task it is to chase these criminals agree.

"You'll hardly go to prison in Brazil," says the head of Rio's anti-cybercrime police unit, Alessandro Thiers.

"The criminal knows that the profit will be great, the logistics is very small — from a home computer you can scam several people — and in the end the crime is worth it. You have the profit without the burden."

Thiers says the unit itself won't be beefed up, but it will train more cops to handle cybercrime in time for the Olympics, set for Aug. 5 to 21.

In 2014, the year Brazil held the World Cup, Thompson says reported cases of cybercrime nearly tripled. 

With even more international tourists to prey on at the Olympics, experts say, will be even worse.

"We will see new campaigns, malicious campaigns attacking people in Brazil and outside Brazil who are actually going to visit the Olympic Games," Bestuszhev says.

Thompson says, "I would say people need to be aware of that coming here." 

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.

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