Friday 2 October 2009

Good news or bad news?

There’s no reduction in the number of scammers out there who will try and separate you from your hard-earned money. The worse news is that these scammers are evolving, they’re becoming smarter and much more resourceful.

In the past I think we’ve all had a mental picture of scammers as rather amateur, perhaps you had an image of them as a few teenagers in Lagos using computers in Internet cafes and cheap cellphones. Not any more. Now they are mostly seriously organised crime. We are talking about the mafia these days.

In the past we would receive scores of “traditional” emails from scammers following the tried and trusted “advance fee” approach. An email would appear claiming to be from the surviving relative of a deposed dictator or contractor to a West African government claiming to have a fortune stashed away and they needed the help of a total stranger (you) to liberate it. Alternatively the email would announce that you’d won a fortune or a car in a lottery that you never entered.

We all earned that these were scams and, like in nature, the scamming species evolved to explore new opportunities.

I was sent an email last week that was from the newer, slightly more advanced species of scammer. It began rather shakily as follows (I haven’t corrected the grammar!):

“Dear [blank]
I would like to teach you a method which will interest you. Following the rules of this method, I make more than 800$ everyday. You will ask me why I want to say it to you if it works. Last 6 months, I won more than 200'000$. It was my target. Then I promise me to share my secret after winning this amount. Just contact me, I'll send you a notice... NATURALLY FOR FREE !!”
It contained a link to a web site called On the main page is a picture of a young smiling man and it says:

“Dear reader, Let me introduce myself, my name is Brad, I'm from Gaborone in Botswana.”
It goes on to explain a supposedly flawless method for winning money at online casinos. The method sound deceptively simple and is, on first impression, convincing. However it is deeply mathematically flawed. (Background and explanations here: 1, 2 and 3. See here also for a ruling by the UK authorities on a similar scam.)

It’s all a bit of a deception, not just the claim that you can win a fortune from gambling. If “Brad” is really from Gaborone, why is his web site registered in the Seychelles and why are many of the elements of his web page in German?

The answer is simple. I did a little detective work and found out his true motivation. Brad is an “affiliate” of the casino web site he suggests you visit. In return for marketing the casino he gets a cut from any business he generates for them. Far from being someone who offers you an amazing technique for taking money from a casino he is, in fact, on their side. All he’s trying to do is seduce you into signing up for the casino, paying them the money you need to start gambling and then keeping your money. Remember this about casinos: they’re not charities. Casinos are incredibly smart organisations who employ advanced mathematical skills to take your money from you and only give part of it back. So-called “Brad” and his type are just the marketing wing of the online casino business.

That’s the bad news, that online deception is becoming much smarter. The good news is that more and more people are becoming aware of this and are becoming increasingly sceptical about things they read online.

More good news. Twice in the last week we’ve had excellent responses from suppliers. The first was from, who describe themselves as “Botswana’s Online Classifieds”. This web site is fairly new and offer an online advertising service. Think of The Advertiser but online.

We were alerted to an advertisement on the site from someone calling herself Onnie. Her ad linked to an article she wrote elsewhere online that actually suggested that people should stop taking their anti-retroviral medication. She stated:

“a divorce from ARV is the best thing you can do for yourself”
This is criminal, lunatic, dangerous nonsense and people like “Onnie” should not be permitted to get away with saying such things. I contacted the guys at and exactly 31 minutes later I got an email from them assuring me that they had deleted the advertisement.

I could not have hoped for a better response. Good for the team at for taking action so swiftly.

Here’s a similar story of a rapid response. We had an email from someone who had a payment problem with Itekanele Health Scheme. They had voluntarily withdrawn from the scheme but their payments hadn’t stopped. We got in touch and this time it took a little longer than with This time it took a mere 72 minutes before I had an email and a phone call from their Managing Director assuring me that the problem would be sorted out.

This is how things are meant to work. Every so often something slips through the net and a company has a problem like these. Nobody is being deliberately difficult or abusive, both seem to have been simple mishaps. The key thing is that both companies took responsibility without even a hint of fuss, promised to fix the problem and said sorry.

That’s the Good News. There ARE good guys out there. And none (so far) are called Brad.

This week’s stars

  • Benny at for removing a dangerous advertisement so rapidly.
  • The guys at Itekanele for responding to a problem swiftly and responsibly.

No comments: