Crime For Members

How to survive cybercrime in Switzerland

The Local
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How to survive cybercrime in Switzerland
Cybercrime is on the increase in Switzerland. File photo: AFP

While the overall rate of crime has fallen in Switzerland in recent times, the incidence of cybercrime is increasing dramatically.


In 2016, 88 percent of the companies surveyed by consulting firm KPMG had been victims of cyberattacks – which was increase of 54 percent compared to the previous year.

There are different forms of cybercrime in Switzerland. Awareness is the first step when it comes to prevention.

This article outlines some examples of cybercrime. It also looks at how to avoid becoming a victim and what to do if you have unknowingly become a victim or an author of such a crime.

The more vulnerable human beings are, the more likely they are to become victims of any crime. Cybercrime is unfortunately not an exception.


This term – derived from the “fishing” of personal data relates to a fraudulent means of obtaining passwords or other confidential data from internet users. The objective is to be able to access emails and bank accounts in order to make online purchases or participate in online auctions in the name of the victim.

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How does it work?

"Phishers" choose naive and helpful people as targets. This is based on their targets' behaviour online (which is recorded through the cookies from websites). Criminals send their targets an email asking them to change their username and password for their security.

The email address is usually perceived by victims as a reliable one (but it is actually a fake or dummy email address) and once users click on a link in the email, the website they are redirected to is also usually perceived also as trustworthy (although this too is a fake or dummy site).

There is usually a form to fill in asking for personal details such as user names, passwords or bank account details.

The website and email are usually supposedly those of a bank. The naive and helpful person will of course immediately react to the email and provide the data requested without thinking twice.

Criminal offence under Swiss law

There is no specific provision for phishing. It can however fall under the following provisions of the Swiss Criminal Code: Articles 143–143bis CPS (unauthorized obtaining of data and unauthorized access to a data processing system); Article 144 CPS (criminal damage); Article 147 CPS (computer fraud); Article 251 CPS (forgery of a document); and Article 305bis CPS (money Laundering).

Preventing and dealing with phishing

Be aware that financial institutions don’t usually ask you to share your password, credit card details or bank account details by email or telephone – especially not through online forms.

Before sharing private details, contact the bank by calling them. Check their phone number on Google.

Do not save your passwords online – even if it is easier – and use different passwords for business activities, social media and internet banking. If you decide to use an online password manager, be wary of this password wallet getting hacked.

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Avoid using post-it notes on your credit cards with passwords on them and don’t carry notebooks marked “passwords” with you alongside your credit cards.

Cyberpiracy/account hijacking/malware

How does it work?

Cyberpiracy involves someone taking control of your sensitive data (medical records, bank details etc.), blocking your access to it and then asking for a ransom for its return or threatening to sell this data to others.

Account hijacking involves someone taking control of your email account and writing to all your contacts pretending to be you – usually to ask for money.

Malware – an abbreviation of malicious software – is a generic term for any program or software developed specifically to damage your computer. These programs are usually sent as attachments to emails. The malware allows the sender to copy, delete, block or change all the data on the infected computer.

Criminal offence(s) under Swiss law

These actions can be subject to punishment under the following articles of the Swiss Criminal Code: Articles 143 CPS (unauthorized obtaining of data), 143bis CPS (unauthorized access to a data processing system) and 144bis CPS (damage to data).

Prevention and dealing with cyberpiracy/account hijacking/malware

Make sure your personal and business data is backed up on an external server or icloud in case of any online disruptions, ransomware or virus.

Invest in a good anti-virus program and have an appropriate filter to protect you from junk mail. This will help you avoid opening an email which gives a hacker access to your personal online life.

Don’t open the attachment of an email when you don’t recognize the sender’s email address. If you receive an email from a person you know, don’t just rely trust the name of the sender. If the email address looks strange, don’t open the attachment.

Even if the address is correct but the content seems strange (for example, a request for funds or for sensitive information), contact the sender.

It is more difficult – for the time being at least – for a hacker to access a device using Apple’s iOS operating system than a device with Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Therefore, use social media and make online purchases through your Apple devices (if you have them) and keep a separate secure email address for your professional emails.

If your computer system (personal or professional) has slowed down, get it checked for viruses or possible hacking.

Money mules

How does it work?

Criminals loos for people who are unemployed or in financial difficulty to act as "money mules".

Here’s how it works. Financial agent positions are offered online. These financial agents are required to receive funds in their Swiss bank account then transfer them to a foreign bank account on behalf of their employer.

These money mules are recruited through job offers listed on social media or on online employment platforms or fake websites (with names of real companies or real websites to reassure the applicants).

The jobs require no training, or specialized knowledge (definitely not, or you may see through the scheme!) very little effort and large commissions.

Once you are hired, you receive a large amount of capital in your bank account and you are asked to withdraw the funds in cash and send them to another country by mail (in an envelope) or using money transfer companies. It has become common for 'employers' to ask you to buy bitcoins on their behalf but in your name.

What’s happening?

These funds and your commission are usually derived from organized crime such as drug trafficking, or cybercrime, among others.

Criminal offence under Swiss law

From a Swiss legal point of view, even if you have no intention of committing an offence, the act of lending your bank account to receive funds and then sending them to a foreign country is a participation in money laundering under article 305bis of the Swiss Criminal Code.

How to avoid becoming a money mule

  1. Never use your bank account for other people’s money.
  2. If you receive funds from an unknown person in your bank account, let the bank know, but don’t re-transfer the funds to anyone.
  3. Inform the police of any job offer which consists of receiving funds from X to transfer them to Y.
  4. Inform your friends and family about money mules.


Online fraud comes in all colours and flavors just like ice cream. Apart from the usual fake stores and fake car sales, here are some other examples:


Commission fraud

This is where the cybercriminal pretends to be a private lender who promises to give you a loan once you pay an administrative fee, or promises incredible returns on investments once you make an initial payment. As soon as you have the made the payment, the contact person either disappears or asks for additional payments.

The chances of recovering the funds are close to impossible because the contact person is usually in another country, using a false name and 'working' for a non-existent company.

To make matters worse, you will be contacted by companies (wealth recovery companies) who promise to help you recover the funds lost – but they will need an advance. These companies usually work hand in hand with the cybercriminals – no sooner have you paid, they will either continue to milk you for funds and tell you they are working on the case – or disappear.

Romance scam or love scam

As you can guess by the name, Romeo seduces Juliet or Juliet seduces Romeo on an online dating site.

The partner who is a cybercriminal will seduce platonically, ensure attachment, promise to visit – but needs to pass by Dubai for an important meeting before coming. While he or she is there, he/she absolutely needs funds to close the deal so he/she can come meet the love of his/her life in Switzerland.

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Love is blind – so the person in Switzerland pays until he/she realizes that the other person was after his/her wallet and not his/her heart.


Criminal offence under Swiss law

This misleading behaviour can be qualified as fraud – if the conditions of Article 146 of the Criminal Code are fulfilled.

This implies that a person:

  1. Was seeking unlawful gain
  2. Mislead the victim in a clever manner
  3. With false statements or by concealing the true facts
  4. The 2nd and 3rd conditions must have lead the victim to have taken action prejudicial to his/her financial interests

The second condition implies that the victim should not have acted in a naive manner. The “naive” nature is examined taking into account the educational background, age and experience of the alleged victim of the scam.

Unfortunately, many people act in a very naive manner on the internet because they want what they are looking for instantly and are too lazy to do “what they should do” to ensure they don’t get duped.

The sanction for fraud under Article 146 of the Criminal Code, if proven, can be a prison sentence of up to five years.

What should you do if you discover you have become a victim of cybercrime?

If you realize your email account has been hacked, immediately inform your contacts that they should not reply to the email address concerned.

If your database has been hacked, immediately contact a lawyer and your insurance provider if you have a cybercrime insurance coverage.

If you are being threatened by someone who is demanding a ransom, seek legal advice immediately.

If you have become a victim of binary option trading fraud or any other form of cybercrime, I recommend that you report it. The chances of recovering funds are very low – unless your insurance covers you.

However, reporting crime is important because it helps improve the knowledge and awareness of the authorities and helps prevent others from becoming victims.

Report all cases of cybercrime to the Swiss Federal Office of Police (Fedpol). Fedpol has an English-language online reporting form which can be found here.

If you are threatened by cyberpiracy, also contact the Swiss federal intelligence unit MELANI. Their English-language reporting form is here.

How to avoid becoming a victim of cyberfraud

When looking for a lender or an online investment

If the offer looks too good, think twice.

Know your lender/contracting party: ask for a meeting or at least Google the name of the person or company. Victims of fraud usually post their experiences online to help other victims.

Keep emails or print screen images of all communications.

Be wary of administrative fees to be paid through Western Union or other means of non-traceable transfers.

Be wary of payments requested by companies that are not the same as the company you have apparently been speaking to.

When purchasing online:

Real websites usually let you pay after delivery or at least by credit card and do not require advance payment in cash.

Check if the website has a quality label such as “VSV/ASVAB” or “Trusted Shops”

For information on requirements for online sales in Switzerland see the Swiss government's information portal for small and medium-sized enterprises here.

For e-commerce disputes, see here (in French and German only).

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If you are a consumer and want to complain about misleading information for example, visit this page (available in German, French and Italian).

Under article 3 para 1 letter s of the Swiss federal law on unfair competition, websites must include the name, address, email address and telephone number of the vendor.

Numerous spelling mistakes on the website or on its General terms and conditions page may be a sign that the website is fake.

When booking a holiday rental online

Ask for additional information concerning the apartment or the place where the apartment is located to see if the person you’re speaking to knows what they’re selling.

Keep emails or print screen images of all communications.

Visit the Terms and conditions section of the website to see how serious the site is.

Refuse any transfer request involving Western Union or bank transfer.

When applying online for a rental apartment in Switzerland

Be wary of landlords that ask for payment of a guarantee before they give you keys to visit an apartment.

Never make payments for a rental through Western Union or such types of non-traceable transfers even if the landlord is abroad.

Read also: Swiss property scam - fake firm charges 12,000 francs for home viewing

Ignore any offer which looks too good to be true.

When meeting people online

Ask the right questions when meeting people on the internet or using applications.

Stay as anonymous as possible until you’ve checked the person’s details on Google (although fake profiles are very common).

Keep emails or print screen images of all communications.

Never pay funds to people you do not know personally, no matter how authentic their story sounds.

Be wary of transfers requested by Western Union and MoneyGram. These services are used because there is no means of following the financial flow of the funds paid.

Be careful of the photographs you post on websites or applications because you never know how, when and where these images will be used.

This article was written by Renuka Cavadini, an attorney with Page & Partners in Geneva. 




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