Helen Worth who plays Gail McIntyre

Coronation Street's much-married Gail McIntyre thought she'd found love again with charming con-man (and her mother's ex-boyfriend) Lewis Archer. However, during episodes tonight and Friday we discover the real reason for his attention: he was hatching a plan to steal £40,000 from her in a daring internet banking fraud.

The twists and turns are the sort of thing you would only ever see in a soap opera, but the experts warn that the trap that finally catches her out could cause problems for one in three people in the UK.


The fraud

Let's not forget that this is a soap, so we have to assume a certain amount of ridiculous drama. It starts with Gail ruining her mother's relationship, and the ex-boyfriend Lewis deciding that the best way to get his revenge would be to pretend to fall in love with Gail, and then steal from her.

Then it takes a turn for the more ludicrous with him getting her to borrow £40,000 against the value of her home in order to run away with him to Italy. Next, the process by which he breaks into her account involves plenty of farcical creeping around the office and eavesdropping while hiding unconvincingly under a table.

And finally, he blackmail's Gail's daughter Kylie over a sexual indiscretion in order to get her to tell him Gail's log-in and password.

Not so daft

It all seems utterly ludicrous. However, the experts have said the last bit is not as incredible as it seems.

According to PayYourWay.org.uk, the Payments Council's consumer education campaign, the most believable part of this story is that Gail has told her daughter her security details - and that this proves to be the weakest link in the chain.

Lewis could have tried every soap trick in the book, and hidden under every table in Weatherfield, but if Gail had kept quiet about her password, he could never have taken the money.

Common

And a lack of care with our passwords is a common mistake. In a recent survey it discovered that one in three people admit sharing online log in details with someone else, while three out of every four break another of the golden rules of password protection by using the same password for more than one online account.

Adrian Kamellard, Chief Executive of the Payments Council said:"Internet banking is a really quick, convenient way to manage your money and millions of people use it safely every day. Innocent fraud victims get excellent legal protection but Gail's story is a reminder of how important it is to keep your security details secure."

In the real world we are more likely to be targeted by a stranger (the chances of losing your money to your mother's ex-boyfriend in a massive romance con are fairly limited). Again in the real world they are most likely to use phishing techniques in order to get us to hand over details of our password rather than blackmail our nearest and dearest.

However, the golden rules that would have protected Gail are something we all need to bear in mind if we are to avoid becoming a victim of internet banning fraud.

Golden rules

It would have been possible for Gail to avoid her fate by following some simple security advice:
  1. Be unique - For really important accounts like online banking or email, make sure that you never use the same password, or even a variation of that original password more than once. That way, if the password is compromised, the damage is restricted.
  2. Change it - if you've been using the same passwords for years, it's definitely time to update them.
  3. Cheat! - You could use a password manager to manage all your passwords. This is a piece of software that creates random, hard-to-guess passwords for each site you visit - meaning you only need to remember one single, master password to access them all. Use the tips below to make your master password difficult to guess but easy to remember.
  4. Be discreet - don't tell anyone else your password(s). And if you need to write it down, disguise it. Also, think about any personal details that you use as responses to security questions. Social networking means more of our lives than ever are public knowledge - it's always worth asking yourself 'could anyone else know this answer?'
  5. Be suspicious - Update you anti-virus software regularly and don't respond to unsolicited emails, text messages or calls that ask you for your security details - it could be a criminal trying to get hold of your passwords.
  6. Mix it up - use a mixture of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols. This vastly increases the difficulty of guessing or cracking your password.
  7. Be creative - Avoid names, birthdays or common words. A good way to create a long, easy to remember password is to string together the first letters of a song lyric, phrase, or even better, a sentence known only to you. For example, 'The Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men' could give a password of 'TGODoYhh10000m!'

Of course, if you are Gail from Coronation Street it also pays to remember that any love interest is fraught with danger - and there's every chance he's a serial killer, an insurance scammer or a con man - so it pays to take a bit of extra care.



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