Thursday, 17 September 2015

Phishing for airtime

(First appeared in New Era 2 September 2015)

“Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”

“Hi, I need some airtime urgently. Please send and I will refund you. This is Milton Shaanika-Louw.” A few hours later, the same cellular number sends another similar message but claims to be from someone else. Really, is this scam not easy to see through? After all, surely a famous and rich person would not need telephone credit. Perhaps our free calling now allows people to send this kind of phishing scam at little or no cost?
This week I was very angry that people are still so gullible, but had to stop myself thinking like that because the confidence artists (con man) is making use of the good inside people to steal their money from them. Thus I should not be angry at the good intentions of people, but rather help to educate consumers about the tricks used by these con men. Many people want to make a quick buck and will use dubious or even illegal methods to separate the victim, known as the mark, from their hard-earned money.
This week in Consumer Court, I look at some of the most common confidence tricks and scams out in the world today that can be found here in Namibia as well.
Get-rich-quick schemes: The main theme in this type of scam is that you can make money very quickly, IF you invest a certain amount now. These include fake franchises, sure investments in property, get-rich-quick books, wealth-building seminars, self-help gurus, chain letters, fortune tellers, witch doctors, miracle cures, Nigerian money scams and donations to churches. These often include you participating to make other people give you their money in a pyramid type scheme.
Persuasion tricks: These type of tricks is one of the oldest scams known. There are several variations including Grandparent scam, romance scam and fortune-telling fraud. In the grandparent scam, the target is convinced that someone they know needs money urgently and will pay them back as soon as they can. The phishing airtime scenario mentioned above is this kind of scam. The romance scam involves getting the person to feel loved, or promised sexual favours in exchange for money. In Namibia there has been rumours of people (especially men) being sent an SMS from someone they don’t know and when they enquire the sender claims to be a young women still at school. You can imagine that once money is sent, the victim will surely not tell another person of what their intention was with an underage girl! Fortune-telling scams (or witch doctor scams in the African context) involve informing the victim that they or their money is cursed and needs to be “cured, prayed for, or blessed”. Of course the money that is cursed then gets in to the pocket of the con artists rather than being cured.
Gold brick scams: Many people hope to buy something for cheaper than its normal retail selling price. In the gold brick scam the item being sold looks like gold put turns out to be only gold coated lead. The most common scam of this type in Namibia is the white-van speaker scam. In this scam the buyer is left with a product worth less than they thought (and more than it actually costs) but is scared to inform the police because they have to admit they were doing something illegal.
Extortion tricks: In the extortion trick the victim is already in a comprised position and then they are forced to pay non-existent claims. These tricks include the badger game where married men are targeted and forced into a supposed affair and then threatened with public exposure unless they pay the blackmail money. It can also involve consumers requesting a cash loan which means they must give up a lot of personal information. This information is then used to harass the customer while pretending to be a real debt collector. The “fake collector” often threatens the victim with calls to their workplace, threats about listing at the credit bureau or even arrest. This underlying debt either does not exist, or is not valid due to a statute of limitations (prescribed debt over three years old). Nevertheless, the victim pays out of fear and the con man has once again made his “mark”.

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