OPINION | Online scams: Get your hat on if you want to avoid screaming into your pillow | #daitngscams | #lovescams

South Africa is part of a global trend of online fraud.

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Despite being warned about online fraud, the writer who has asked to remain anonymous got scammed. They write that we are  more surrounded by crime online than people in the darkest alleyways of 19th-century London.

I got scammed. By phone, even though I had been warned about this kind of fraud.

If I try to analyse why I fell for it, the to and fro in my head goes: they sounded urgent and said they wanted to help me because my account had been hacked and made me feel guilty / I was stupid / They had a sophisticated set-up with fake supervisor to reassure me / I was very stupid / They used to send semi-literate messages but now they don’t and the phone ID was fake, saying something like Card Division / How could you be so idiotic? / They knew all the lines about not asking for passwords or pins and even set up a fake appointment at the bank / Screams into pillow.

When I went to report the case to the police station, the captain taking my statement said I was the fourth person that day reporting similar cases. And, he said, you all blame yourselves, whereas you should be blaming the perpetrators, who are increasingly sophisticated. And, he said, you may not believe it, but some people fall for it twice. The second phone call is from people who know you have been defrauded already and claim to be helping put it right. 

Getting away with it

South Africa is part of a global trend. In the British Spectator, Ross Clark writes about an epidemic of fraud in the online space and points to how banks and the police let those getting money fraudulently get away with it.

He hammers the myth of traceable transactions and a safe online realm, saying that one is more surrounded by crime online than people in the darkest alleyways of 19th-century London. So put a note on your computer or phone: beware pick-pockets, blackmail artists, flirty offers, and villains in disguise. 

READ | Here’s how to protect yourself against online criminals and their scams

When I asked furiously about who got my money, the bank said that privacy laws mean they can’t say. Their rights to privacy?! I want their mug-shots online and the people who let them open a bank account forced to confess. But, as Clark says, nobody seems to be taking this seriously enough. 

There are lots of scams – and more coming, as villains get even more ingenious. Fake pets, crooked buyers, crooked sellers, true love offerers.

One very clever friend was scammed by a fake version of a well-known accommodation website to whom he paid a lot of money for a rental that wasn’t. Neither the bank concerned nor the copied website were interested in helping him recover his money.

Another intelligent friend with a legal background has large sums of money vanishing from an account with the bank blithely saying he must have given his pin and password to somebody. A surprising number of people to whom one speaks about it confess having fallen for a scam — but we don’t want to admit our stupidity, so the crisis grows out of sight. (Why do you think I am publishing this anonymously?) 

I was very — and probably undeservedly — lucky. The bank recovered all my money. Thanks, fraud division. But next time somebody calls professing to want to help me, I am going to remember the old cowboy advice. If you think you may be in a crooked poker game, reach for your hat – and leave the room. Hang up your phone and dial the legitimate number on the back of your credit card or go into your bank. You don’t want to be the one screaming into your pillow.

– The writer has has asked to remain anonymous as he doesn’t want everyone to know how stupid he was – or make himself a target for further attempt. News24 knows his identity.

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