Norway millionaire murder suspect ‘has agreed to pay ransom’

The Norwegian entrepreneur Tom Hagen has offered to pay the cyber-currency ransom he claims has been demanded by the kidnappers of his wife, ahead a new interview with police on Wednesday.

Norway millionaire murder suspect 'has agreed to pay ransom'
Police technicians operating from a tent outside Tom Hagen's house in Lorensburg, outside Oslo. Photo: Tore Meek/NTB Scanpix/AFP
Hagen, who police suspect of fabricating the kidnapping to hide his wife's murder, sent a coded message on Friday, which means “I confirm that I will pay”.  
“We strongly want to get in touch with the other party. That is why we have taken this initiatives towards them, which we hope will be answered. The police have not been involved in this process,” Hagen's defence lawyer Svein Holden told the VG newspaper, which reported the attempt on Tuesday. 
Hagen, who is Norway's 164th richest man with an estimated fortune of 1.9bn kroner (€180m), was arrested on April 28 after police began to suspect that the kidnapping of his wife Anne-Elisabeth Falkevik Hagen in October 2018 had been fabricated. 
But on May 8, he was released after a court found the evidence against him was not sufficient to merit keeping him in custody. 
VG on Tuesday reported new details of Hagen's contact with the kidnappers, just a day before he is due to meet police for a new interview. 
According to the newspaper, police have so far refused to comment on the Hagen's claims to have carried out these negotiations.
According to the newspaper, Hagen communicated with the kidnappers as early as November 2, saying he would send the money within seven days. 
But on November 13, he messaged them saying he had problems paying and needed more time. 
On both occasions he received a message warning him that if he did not pay quickly, his wife would die. 
Then in May, he sent several encrypted emails to the counterparty, who replied in July. 
“Tom, are you ready for negotiation now? Do you understand that fucking with us is a mistake,” the message read. 
“Anne-Elisabeth Hagen needs medical help. We can only give basic. You are taking a long time. No guarantee for how long she lives.” 
According to VG, Hagen transferred €1.3m an in Monero in February, in exchange for a proof of life, but appears to have received no proof of any kind.  
The newspaper reported that the note found at the couple's house when Hagen's wife Anne-Elisabeth Hagen disappeared on October 31, written in broken Norwegian, demanded that he pay €9m in the cryptocurrency Monero. 
The note also contained a list of amounts of Bitcoin, which if paid would serve as a codes indicating various answers. 
Police believe that Anne-Elisabeth Hagen was murdered due to long-running difficulties in the couple's marriage, and that Hagen worked with another party to stage the kidnapping.  
The couple's children deny that there were any problems in the marriage. 
A man in his 30s has also been arrested and charged in the case. 

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Norway’s most common phone and internet scams and how to avoid them

People living in Norway are often targeted by phone and online scams. A recent Norstat survey shows that as many as 92 percent of Norwegians have received e-mails, SMS messages, or phone calls from scammers.

Norway's most common phone and internet scams and how to avoid them

If you live in Norway, chances are high that you have been contacted by fraudsters who attempted to get hold of your personal information. 

Available data points to Norway being more exposed to scams than neighbouring countries. When it comes to phone scams, in January of 2022, Telia blocked 4 million potential “wangiri” scam calls in Norway, compared to 2.6 million in Sweden, 2.2 million in Denmark, and 450,000 in Finland.

Wangiri means “one (ring) and cut” in Japanese. The scammers who use this method often hang up before people have time to pick up the phone. They make money when people call back, as callers are re-routed to a premium rate number overseas and charged for the expensive call.

Furthermore, a recent survey conducted by Norstat for the Frende Forsikring insurance company shows that as many as 92 percent of Norwegians received e-mails, SMS, or telephone calls from fraudsters.

According to the survey, 11 percent of people who received such calls talked to the scammers, and a small proportion also clicked on SMS links. 

Real-life examples of scams

So, what do such scam attempts look like? The Local spoke to two people living in Norway who have been targeted by scammers.

Egor Gaidukov, Assistant Operations Manager at Bulandet Miljøfisk AS, told us that the scammer who contacted him via phone was easy to identify due to the language he used.

“I was called by a Russian-speaking man pretending to represent DNB. For context, I’m also a Russian speaker. He said that 700 kroner was withdrawn from my bank account to an Apple wallet,” Gaidukov says, adding that it was not difficult to see that the man was a scammer.

“The way he talked was different from how real bank representatives speak. In addition, I have the experience of talking to other scammers before. Also, it’s strange that a bank officer speaks Russian in Norway,” he points out.

Bergen-based website designer Mykola Blohkin was recently targeted by scammers pretending to be Microsoft employees.  

“I got a call from a UK phone number. It was weird, but I actually have a friend from England who lives here in Bergen, so I thought it might be him. Instead, it was a guy with what sounded like a strong Indian accent that started explaining how he was working at Microsoft and that I had some dangerous viruses on my computer. I work in the IT industry and haven’t used Windows OS for at least ten years, so it was rather funny to hear about viruses,” Blohkin explains, adding that he has a few rules that help him stay protected from frauds:

“I rarely pick up my phone if I get calls from abroad. Even when it’s local Norwegian numbers, I try to Google them first. My rule is: if it’s important, people will send me an SMS briefly explaining the situation.”

Most common scams in Norway: Hacked accounts and phishing

In order to get more information on the most common scams in Norway in the last year, The Local reached out to NorSIS, an independent organisation committed to raising awareness about threats and vulnerabilities regarding information security. 

Specialist manager Karoline Tømte at NorSIS told us that the most common inquiries they got in the last year involve hijacked and “hacked” accounts. 

“In 2021, we registered 740 cases of hacked Facebook accounts and 185 cases of hacked Instagram profiles. We also received inquiries about phishing attempts both by SMS and e-mail. In this type of fraud, scammers send out an SMS that appears to come from well-known companies and agencies such as the Tax Administration and the logistics company DHL,” Tømte pointed out.

“Scammers also often try to get Bank-ID or other payment information, with the goal of acquiring financial gain or collecting personal information for later use,” she added, warning that scammers are becoming more sophisticated and cunning. 

Safety tips

Økokrim’s latest threat assessment states that the number of criminal networks targeting Norwegian bank customers has increased from between three and five before the pandemic to between 15 and 20 at the moment. 

As fraudsters operating in the Norwegian market adapt and advance their methods, people must remain vigilant and attentive to detail.

Here are some safety tips – compiled from NorSIS and other publicly available security resources – that can help you minimize risk and secure your personal information:

1. Official entities in Norway rarely ask for personal information via phone

Generally speaking, the Norwegian authorities will not call you to request personal information. That is why, for example, the Tax Administration sends an SMS to citizens, asking them to log in to their website when they have to provide personal information. Most agencies and reputable companies do the same. To be absolutely sure that the website is correct, NorSIS recommends going directly to the website.

2. Ask for the name and title of the caller

If you are called by the Norwegian authorities and are unsure whether the caller is legitimate, ask for the name and title of the caller. Then, feel free to call the switchboard or contact another channel to check the background of the caller.

3. Stay vigilant

NorSIS advises people in Norway to be a little critical of inquiries they receive. Scammers often use social manipulation, temptation, fear, and trust. They usually have information about your property history, housing conditions, and your ID number. According to Tømte, it is a good idea to hide your friend lists on Facebook so that your contact network cannot be used. Scammers adapt to different situations and seasons and often strike when people are on holiday and are less attentive. Keep that in mind the next time someone contacts you and tries to tempt or scare you into something.

4. Delete messages and reject calls from foreign numbers, don’t click on links

Be wary of unexpected inquiries that pop up out of nowhere. Do not click on links or open attachments if you don’t know the sender. Most people delete messages with links from unknown numbers and decline calls from unknown foreign numbers. That is often the correct response.

5. Passwords, PINs, and two-step verification

Protect all your accounts with a unique password so that, if your password is leaked, not all your accounts will be threatened. Never share your passwords or PINs with others. Use 2-step verification for extra protection of your accounts.

6. Keep track of your bank accounts, protect your BankID information

Keep track of your bank accounts. Contact the card issuer or block your card if you see unexpected account activity. Never share your BankID information with others. 

7. Keep your anti-malware software updated

Make sure you have up-to-date anti-malware software to protect you. If you open malicious attachments or links, updated software could offer some protection.