The prevalence of online scams
By Kudakwashe Mushayavanhu.
With the pandemic moving us further online, so does the prevalence of scams. Online scams have been rampant in Namibia with the most common being fraudulent job offers and investment scams. Falling for a scam is painfully embarrassing and it can happen to any of us. It happens to the absent-minded and to the fanatically organised, to the university-educated and to the functionally literate.
What’s worrying is that the internet has made us easier targets for scammers as they can easily access our personal information online. Social media sites are effectively a gateway through which scammers are getting access to vast numbers of people. For scammers, social media is a hotspot for dubious activity. It’s easy to manufacture a fake persona, or scammers can hack into an existing profile to get “friends” to con.
I for one believe that to safeguard yourself on social media is to limit who can see your posts and information. Visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions. Also, if you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them. Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by wire transfer or mobile money payments such as ewallet or bluewallet. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
What’s more, the internet is a predatory place. Social media fraud is committed on Facebook and WhatsApp; this deception is increasing. We have all heard stories where our colleagues have been scammed trying to buy something they saw advertised on social media. Goods are advertised, and without verification, consumers transfer funds through cash transfer services. Once the fraudulent business receives the funds, the money is immediately withdrawn with posts and profiles related to the sale deleted, and phones not answered.
When selling a high-value item, it’s, therefore, best to only entertain offers from local buyers who are willing to meet in person. You should never pay for anything that you intend to collect in person without first seeing (and inspecting) that item. If a seller asks you to pay for an item in advance that you have not seen in person, walk away. You should remain suspicious even if the seller shows off the item on video since you cannot verify that the item is in your local area.
In this era of remote working jobs, offer scams have also thrived. Generally, the process of searching for a job can be disorienting, leaving you vulnerable to scams. And when that job email finally pops up it always sounds like a dream job. And, usually, it’s one you didn’t apply for. To accept the job, you will be asked to pay for a starter kit or materials relevant to the job or scheme. What you will get is not what you paid for. It’s always essential to never accept a job without an interview.
Another scam taking over is investment-related. Investment fraud schemes are characterized by offers of low- or no-risk investments, guaranteed returns, overly-consistent returns or complex strategies. Examples of investment fraud include advance fee fraud, Ponzi and pyramid schemes. The perpetrators range from professional investment advisers to persons trusted and interacted with daily, such as a co-worker. The fraudster’s ability to foster trust makes these schemes so successful.
Thus, investors should use scrutiny and gather as much information as possible before entering into new investment opportunities. It is essential to be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mails. And to be very cautious when dealing with individuals/companies from outside Namibia.
All told, we are notoriously poor at detecting deceit, if the liar is fluent enough and the story slightly convincing. The onus is, however, still on us consumers to ensure that we do not fall into the elaborate traps that fraudsters set in the digital sphere. Caught at the right moment of vulnerability, anyone can fall for an online scam. When you are prepared, however, spotting an online scam is fairly straightforward.