Saturday 19 March 2016

Scams. Yes. Again.

People sometimes tell us that we can stop talking about scams now. Everyone understand, we’re told. Everyone now knows that you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter, that total strangers don’t contact you offering to share their inheritance with you, that miracles don’t actually happen.

But it’s not true. There are still plenty of people out there who don’t understand, who still fall for what many of us would think are obvious scams. The gullible are still with us.

And guess what? It could be you or if it isn’t you then it could be someone you know and care about.

A member of the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group said she’d been looking for jobs overseas and received the following email:
“We received your curriculum vitae, we have gone through your (CV) and congratulations we have decided to offer you administration job at dubia, sharjah college. we just finished recruiting our hotel jobs at london united kingdom, we just
confirmed about you from your Refree; if you are willing to Relocate and like the offer, send us your 2passport photograph and your international passport page, we will pay your visa fees and flight fee, our Processing fee is just a little token of four hundred and fifty dollars, you will send it through Monogram or western union with (annytravel and tours recruitment services) send us Mtcn code when sendin your passports, please Note that the school will give you 2years working visas and you can renew after expiration once you don't have any disease, we will process your documents 2days after payment and it to your mail adress and one copy through Dhl, thanks”
I think you skeptics can spot the clues. This appalling typing is supposed to come from a company recruiting internationally? The strange use of punctuation should be clue enough, don’t you think? Above all it breaks the first rule of recruitment. No recruitment company ever offers someone a job without interviewing them first. In 2016 it might be done using Skype but there will always be an interview of some sort. Genuine recruitment companies don’t offer strangers well-paid jobs out of the blue. And another rule. Genuine recruitment companies don’t ever charge the recruit to offer them a job. It’s the company with the vacancies that pays, not the recruit. Always.

Last week we received the following email.
“Please help I don't know if I fell in hands of scammers. I have a male friend in Edinburgh. We met on internet, we have not met physically but we have been communicating on whatsapp since January. Last month he said he sent me a gift through Swift express which he gave me a tracking no. I tracked the parcel until it arrived in Cape Town. He said he paid for it to be delivered to my home. When it arrived I was sent a FNB account number to pay for custom clearance which I couldn't deposit in banks here I decided to send that money through western union. Then after clearance they called they said my parcel has money in it which is not allowed. According to Micheal the company worker he said at airport they decided to fine charge but 10% of that amount and they wanted R8900. I called my friend to talk to them after that he said he has 6900 I pay 2000. After this the company wanted 1600 for insurance as they said they want to deliver the parcel which I paid on the 5 March 2016. Since then I am calling the company number but it's not answered I asked this friend to call them on Tuesday and he also said they are not answering. When I track the parcel it's there awaiting clearance. Please help me.”
The “romantic scam” always involves the same elements. A friendship that develops online with someone affluent and professional in a country far, far away. A friendship that very quickly becomes romantic, despite the two people never having met in person. Sometimes they’ve never even spoken on the phone.

That’s when the shipment emerges. The supposedly loving boyfriend say he wants to send his new love a package of goodies, usually jewelry, laptops, iPads and cash. A few days later that’s when the victim gets the message this lady mentioned. The parcel apparently arrives in Cape Town and is seized by the authorities and she is forced to pay the customs agent money for it to be released. Using Western Union.

There are so many questions that skeptics will ask. Why would the package be in Cape Town and not Johannesburg? Why would the South African authorities want payment when that’s not the destination? Why would they require payment using a money transfer service and not a bank?

The bad news is that we didn’t get to this one in time. By the time she contacted us she’d already sent the scammers over P5,000. That’s money that she’ll never see again. Scammers don’t offer refunds.

Of course both of these cases are advance fee scams, they’re both all about that money they want from the victim in advance.

Occasionally they want something else as well.

Last year a woman contacted me asking about her “friend” who had sent her a package It was the same story but this time there was a difference. I told her the bad news, that her “boyfriend”, the package and the shipping agent were all fictitious. “He doesn’t exist”, I told her. “But he does”, she insisted. “No, he really doesn’t”, I replied. “But I met him”, she said, “He’s real”.

It seems that this particular scammer met her in Johannesburg a few months beforehand and they spent a romantic weekend together before he left “for the USA” from where he said he’d send her the package. This was a new one for me. I’m used to scammers screwing their victims financially, but to do so in the flesh was a surprise to me. A rapist as well as a scammer. A new low.

So I make no apology for going on about scams. I’ll continue doing so until every single person in the country knows how to spot one and protect themselves.

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