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Scammers calling, texting! Beware
Scammers change style and tactics
By Chidi Emmanuel
When Favor Tata, an African expat, got a call last month from someone posing as a customer care representative at one of the telecommunication companies in Kuwait, the offer was too enticing to refuse and she saw no reason for not handing over some of her bank details. "Congratulations! You (your phone number) have just won a sum of KD 10,000 through a draw. We just need your full name, civil ID number and the last four digits of your account number," the caller requested. It wasn't until she read between the lines in the email that subsequently followed the call that she realized that scammers had gained access to her private information.
They pose as professionals - lawyers, government officials, company executives, royal family members, etc as they prey on their victims, luring them with giveaway offers. Some scammers are crafty and use mock corporate mail extensions, which are available via some free email providers. For credibility, some fraudsters pretend to be Europe-based and use what look like foreign telephone numbers.
"It is not uncommon for companies to call you and offer you better services or special promotional offers - but these days, scammers are tapping in and hacking people's information. On many occasions, the victim will be given an email address or phone number of a third party and asked to contact him or her. Usually, it is the same scammer using a different email address. The purpose of this is to draw the victim deeper into the plot and darken reality. In some cases, the victims will be asked to provide their bank information," Kuwaiti legal practitioner Nawaf Al-Fusia explained.
A Lebanese expat told Kuwait Times about her ordeal. "I got a message on my Instagram account from someone claiming to be a sheikha from the UAE. The scammer later sent the ID card and personal information of "Sheikha Mariam" as proof via WhatsApp and requested me to send $1,000 to a Syrian woman. The so-called sheikha promised to reward me handsomely in appreciation and asked for my bank details. I rejected the offer because there is no way a sheikha from such a ruling family will be asking someone she doesn't know to send money," Sareena Sahar explained.
Technology has made it easier and cheaper for scammers and telemarketers to connect with people - and also makes it difficult to identify and deal with a fake call. These days, scammers are finding ways to get their calls through, with some unscrupulous companies hiding the real numbers from which the calls originated. Recently, an Egyptian man reported that an unidentified person stole KD 16,000 from his bank account. The man, who works in an oil company in Kuwait, told police that he found the money missing from his account after someone called him via Viber (with a local bank's logo) claiming he has won KD 8,000. He was asked to provide his personal details for confirmation.
MBA for $2,000
The latest tactics of phone scammers is to pretend to be from online US universities. The scam begins with a phone call to the potential victim. The scammers will offer you admission and subsequently lure you with a scholarship offer. The victims will be asked to give their credit card's last digits. To make it real, scammers tell their victims that the conversation is being recorded.
"They sent me an email congratulating me. I was told to fill an online form - stating my name, contact numbers, place of work, salary, years of experience, etc. After that, I received a call from a Mrs Rosaline who claimed to be the deputy registrar of a school. She told me that the school has gone through my application and has decided to offer me an MBA certificate based on my 10-year experience. Surprisingly, I was told to pay only a token sum of $2,000," said Esther Ada, a teacher. "What baffled me was when she asked for the last four digits of my credit card number. I told her I am no longer interested, but they have kept calling till today - offering different courses and packages," she added.
Black magic and powers
Criminals are using fears of black magic to swindle people too. A woman and a man were recently arrested by Kuwaiti police for defrauding people who paid for their 'services'. The duo randomly called residents and convinced them they were bewitched. They then collected money from them, promising to use black magic to cleanse their family members.
'Wash wash' or the black money scam is probably one of the strangest advance fee fraud formats in existence. A con artist poses as a businessman who has different kinds of currencies but only needs some chemicals to wash and clean the banknotes. The scammer then offers the victim a share of a large consignment of banknotes that have been stained black.
He then demonstrates how the notes can be recovered by cleaning a coated banknote with a special chemical. The chemical quickly removes the black stain and a clean banknote is revealed. The victim will be told that the chemical is the only sample left. The victim will be persuaded to buy more to clean the notes. The more chemical, the more cash the victim gets. The conman may at this stage introduce a third party who will supposedly supply the chemicals. What he does not explain is that the trunk box full of black money is only cut-up black craft paper - not money at all. The excited victim will then be persuaded to pay more and more for the so called 'cleaning chemicals'.
"It appeared real. They even gave me the KD 20 to go and spend after they washed it. I was very excited so I gave them KD 2,000 to buy a small bottle of the chemical, hoping to get KD 10,000. Till today, I never saw or heard from them again. I later found out that the KD 20 was real money coated with a black substance which was later removed with methylated spirit," an Arab expat named Ahmed lamented.
Advice and tips
Fraud is now at record levels as scammers get increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to get money and personal details. "Be observant and protect yourself from being scammed by following these basic tips," Fusia advised. "Avoid dealing with uninvited and untraceable contacts. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it might probably be a scam. Know who you are dealing with. Beware of any requests for your bank details or money. Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don't know or trust. Don't agree to transfer money or goods for someone else - money laundering is a criminal offence. Be wary of unusual payment requests," he said.