Friday 3 April 2009

Another week, another scam

Here we go again. In the past it’s been the traditional Nigerian “419” scams, then it was people winning lotteries they’d never entered, then it was the non-existent “John Major Foundation” offering free conference trips to the UK.

Now there’s another one.

We heard last week from a number of people who had complaints about a company called “ITA Work and Travel”.

The readers saw advertisements in local newspapers offering highly-paid jobs in exotic places around the world. All they had to do was send an email to the company and wait. Each got a response addressed to “Dear prospective client”. The email confirmed that they were eligible for a range of exciting employment opportunities in “United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Russia, China, Greece, South Africa and Turkey”.

The email went on to say that “Your salary has been evaluated to be approximately $5,300 per month for the duration of your contract our contracts range from 6 months the least to 3 years at the most.”

Yes, that’s US dollars. Over $5,000 per month. That’s about P40,000. Not bad. No wonder the readers were so excited.

All the readers had to do to get these wonderful jobs was to send “ITA Work and Travel” $350. Well, that wasn’t quite all they had to do. Shortly afterwards they were asked to send another $1,000 for visa fees because these jobs were in the USA and that’s what it costs to get a visa to enter the USA. They also wanted copies of passports, Omang cards and qualifications and two passport photographs.

Suspicious yet?

It’s all a scam. The clues are there in the emails. Firstly they don’t seem to know the names of the people they have selected. Then there is the completely silly way of recruiting people. They say the victims are eligible for employment without ever having spoken to them yet and YOU have to pay THEM to get a job? That’s just not the way recruitment companies work.

Recruitment companies are paid by the companies that are hiring, not by the employees they hire. They also don’t just give away jobs to people they’ve never met, never screened and never evaluated.

Then there is the payment for the visa. Yes, you sometimes have to pay a fee to get a visa but it’s never anything like $1,000.

You can understand why we were suspicious, why we were convinced that this was a scam.

So we started investigating. More clues emerged very quickly. The web site they gave was no longer available because they appear not to have paid their bill. All of the phone numbers they gave were cellphones, one in the UK, one in the USA and another in South Africa. Not a single land line in sight.

We phoned the company claiming to have received one of their emails. Without even asking for our caller’s name they confirmed that work was available aboard cruise ships. They also claimed that that figure of over $5,000 per month could be achieved by simply working as a waiter on this mythical cruise ship.

Then the conversation became bizarre. Our friend Henry from ITA Work and Travel told us that if we accepted the waiter’s job we would also get a visa to enter any of the countries the cruise ship might visit. That’s OK perhaps but not when he described it as being “like a diplomatic visa”.

Then he couldn’t remember whether our American cousins had a consulate or an embassy in Pretoria, which he said we would need to visit in order to get the visa.

Then there was another issue. Our friend Henry from ITA and his colleague Colin who we also spoke to, had very pronounced American accents. In fact, they were very pronounced, MTV American accents with just the occasional hint of West Africa. Their accents were as fake as their job offers.

Of course we knew already that it was all a scam. That much was obvious. The final proof, if it was needed, related to visas. One of the victims had sent them a scanned copy of her passport and received from them a scanned copy of an American visa that she had apparently been granted. Quite how they managed to get a visa without the Americans seeing the original passport and the person in question is dubious.

So we sent the scanned copy of the “visa” to the US Embassy here in Botswana. They confirmed that it’s a fake. A superficially convincing one but a fake nevertheless.

So there you have it, a scam. Yet another “advance fee” scam. Unfortunately several people that we know of have each lost around P10,000 to these criminal scumbags. What worries me is that I suspect that for every victim who has come forward there are probably ten more who are too embarrassed to do so.

Of course we’re encouraging the victims to complain to the Police so at least the crime can be recorded and who knows, maybe some action taken.

But the lesson is simple, the same lesson we seem to preach every couple of weeks. Be skeptical. It’s your only defence against abuse.

This week’s stars
  • Mr Homan from Carmel Enterprises, the LG agent in Botswana, for going out of his way to satisfy an LG customer.
  • Lameck at Engen Filling Station on the Western Bypass in Gaborone for being “thoroughly pleasant, polite and efficient”
  • Malebogo from the Grand Palm (now the Walmont Ambassador) for going the extra mile to help a customer.
  • Mrs Wedisang, who works as midwife at the Tshwaragano Clinic in Francistown for her passion, her willingness to communicate with patients, her commitment and for being a role model in health care.
  • BTC for managing to take our details out of this year’s telephone directory for no reason whatsoever.

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