Friday, 14 May 2010

No immunity

Everyone can be conned, deceived or scammed, nobody is immune. Honestly. I know it’s sometimes difficult to believe how gullible how some people can be, but I truly believe every one of us can fall victim if we’re not careful.

My favourite story of catastrophic gullibility occurred in 2006 in Francistown. A crook and his accomplice approached the manager of a Sua Pan filling station with what they claimed was a miraculous box. All he had to do was place money in the box and it would magically multiply. You can imagine the scene. They place a bank note into the box and with a mixture of distraction and fast-talking they then produce two notes demonstrating the box’s mysterious powers.

After this demonstration they managed to persuade the credulous victim to place a staggering P70,000 in the box. Needless to say as soon as the money was in the box they no doubt said “Oh look, what’s that behind you?” and they were gone. Gullible and foolish, I know, but it gets worse. The very next day two accomplices of the original crooks approached the same victim and guess what? They fooled him again. This time they persuaded the fool to put another P15,400 in the box.

Part of me has a sneaking admiration for these crooks, they were clearly extremely persuasive but you have to be amazed by the sheer, unadulterated, Olympic-medal-winning stupidity of the victim.

Clearly we’re not all that stupid. I hope.

However it IS possible for intelligent people to fall for scams and hoaxes. In the last few months I’ve had emails from smart, educated people forwarding emails suggesting that lipstick will give you cancer, that Bill Gates is giving away his money to total strangers and that they eat black people in China. All hoaxes, all lies.

Last week we heard about a presumably smart woman who was falling for a scam. In fact it was her family who got in touch with us, deeply concerned for their relative and the risk she was running. This apparently very intelligent woman had started to offer her relatives solutions to all their financial problems. She hinted that she was about to come into a very large amount of money and would be able to clear all her debts and everyone else’s as well. Needless to say her family were suspicious.

Eventually the family discovered what was going on. The victim had been emailed out of the blue by someone claiming to be in a refugee camp and who needed to transfer her late father’s fortune out of the country. They also found other emails apparently from a lawyer who claimed to be helping with the supposed transfer. He had already demanded money from the victim so he could travel to London to transfer the money.

When the family researched some more they discovered that the victim had recently withdrawn tens of thousands of Pula and they were obviously very concerned that she had already sent the scammers money. They were also concerned that she had sent the scammers her personal details and documents and who knows what they were then going to do with that information. In one of the most recent emails the scammers were demanding a payment of P200,000 before she could see the fictitious millions they had promised her.

Luckily the family were eventually able to persuade the victim that she was in fact being scammed. However although she is probably glad to have avoided losing more money it nevertheless left her feeling disappointed, betrayed and probably extremely silly for falling for the scam in the first place.

My point is that this victim wasn’t stupid. I’ll protect her identity by not telling you her profession but it’s a responsible, respectable job demanding intelligence and observation skills. If someone like her can fall for this sort of scam then almost anyone can.

So should we just give up and accept that we’re all suckers and we’ll all have our money stolen? No, I’m not a defeatist, I DO think there are things we can do. We can begin by being skeptical. We can start from a position of NOT believing things that we’re told, just because someone has told us them. We can certainly start by being VERY suspicious about anything and everything we see on the internet.

The good news is that more and more consumers are skeptics. We now hear at least once a week from consumers alerting us to scams and deceptions they’ve encountered. One we were told about is an email entitled “Apply To Avoid ATM CARD Suspension Now !!!”. It said:
Due to the on-going Identity Theft we ask you to apply for your ATM CARD(s) Upgrade now to avoid suspension of your account , open the below link to upgrade your account.
CBN Nigeria”
The internet link they mention actually connected to a web site in Argentina. The web site does a good impression of the Central Bank of Nigeria and demands your name, email address and password and your bank card number and PIN. There must be people gullible enough to give these details to am unknown web site but I’m hoping none of them read Mmegi!

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