10 Mar 2009
Here is a typical message you may likely receive from a scammer coming from the email address of someone you know well. I reproduce below the unedited form of an email that was recently sent to one of my colleagues purportedly coming from another colleague well known to both of us.
“Hope you are doing well together with your family.I am currently in London for a conference meeting yesterday, Unfortunately for me my money was stolen at the hotel where i lodge in and they made away with my wallet (which included my cash, diaries and credit cards). I am so confused right now and i didnt bring my phone here,Please can you send me $2,000 today,As soon as i get home i would refund it immediately. Write me so i can let you know how to send it to me through western union money transfer since i dont have an an account here.”
This is the fourth person known to me that hackers have successfully penetrated their email accounts and sent similar distressing mails to some contacts in the email boxes. Some people have actually lost considerable sums of money in the belief that they are sending it to rescue a loved one in difficulties.
A parallel set of crooks keeps on targeting African-based family members of people living abroad with phony telephone calls from ‘lawyers’ or someone in the host country intervening on behalf of a relative that has been thrown in jail because of immigration irregularities etc. The relatives in Africa are usually told that the detained person cannot contact them personally because, as a detainee, the person is not allowed access to a phone. Some distraught relatives usually swallow the story and hardly bother to try calling the ‘detained’ person’s number. The scammers then suck out the little resources from these poor people in the name of ‘legal fees’ etc and usually the money is sent through Western Union.
The crooks are always a step ahead of most of us and they usually play on our greed or compassion and then exploit our ignorance to rip us off.
There is need to be cool headed and inquisitive when reacting to any information you receive. If you access your email in a public place, make sure you sign out before you leave. Do not give out your password to sources you do not trust. You should not send money to a stranger unless you are double sure why you are doing so. You should be suspicious of anybody insisting that you should send money to him or her only through Western Union. Western Union has been the principal conduit through which most scammers in this part of our world extort their victims (because they can claim to be in Yaounde but will cash the money in Douala).
As law enforcement agencies in most African countries remain poorly equipped to combat crime in the information technology sector, scammers take advantage of the relative impunity to flourish. The rest of us are left to fend off their attacks on our own.
An American Lady’s Encounter with Cybercrooks
Njei Moses Timah