Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Monday, March 01, 2010

All about internet scams

IT HELP DESK
-PANU KASAR

SOME weeks ago my mum called me from home. She sounded shocked; I waited for her to gather her breath, and listened tirelessly as she explained that one of our relatives received a letter which claimed he won millions of pounds at a European lottery.

She gave me email addresses and phone numbers of the lottery firm and asked me to verify the prize online. I quickly stopped the excitement telling her that it was fake. What a short lived joy. I believe that many readers of this column have also become victims of these scams. These days with the increased use of communication many people with criminal intent are using technological advances to deceive the masses. I hope this article brings to light common characteristics of these modern day scams so that we are prepared to face the cyber world.

The internet has become widespread in its global reach. With just a single click thousands of emails can be sent across the world in just a few seconds. This innovation has given rise to scams that are contrastingly as good as the benefits of the technology that brings it. The law of averages takes its inevitable toll and at least out of the thousands a handful of recipients become victims where they lose their hard earned money. 

These clever cunning people have been devising ways to defraud unsuspecting people who use the mailing system. The odd fact is that many people have fallen victims to these scams. Of my own observation I've seen three categories of scams.

First and most common communication means that scammers use is the email system. I also have received countless emails of people claiming that they have millions of dollars in inheritance and wanted my help in securing the money, they also asked me for my contact details and asked for some processing fees etc. I think some time ago Australia's Nine Network produced a documentary on its 60 Minutes show uncovering African email fraud organizations. These are real pros who are experts in electronic crime.

People like these all over the world write deceiving emails and flood the internet looking for vulnerable mail boxes. The emails are written in very convincing ways, some are written to entice men especially. The sender pretends to be a woman wanting to start a relationship. Mind you many do fall for it. Others are written promising millions of kina to the receiver but firstly a little assistance is needed. They would request a processing fee to sort out some paperwork or legal procedures before they can share their inheritance with you. I think these are the general formats where scams come in.

The concept is, with the overwhelming hacking information on the internet these people hack public email or social networking sites (eg: gmail, facebook) and get as many email addresses as possible. By the way this reminds you not to publicly display your email ad on weird hacker sites. These practices make you become a vulnerable target for spammers (FYI unwanted email is called spam and people who send them are spammers). Spammers collect millions of email addresses on the internet and then they send an initial email just to verify if your email ad is still active. The greatest mistake you will make is to respond to that first email. Once you respond, it tells them that your email is active, they then proceed to the next step. They tell you their plight and ask for your assistance in funds promising you millions. Some even ask you for your personal details and even ask for your credit card details. Crazy weird people. They'll ask for anything just to defraud you.

This happens bit by bit, it's a process they follow and in each response you become more vulnerable and the information you continuously give can lead to blackmail. It's a set up and I believe the initial emails are already set in the system and the computer they use automatically replies the fake messages until you become intimate with them that's where humans take over. Its similar to John Grisham's book "The Brethren", you should read that sometime.

Anyways, these are organized white collar crimes. They have secured private offshore bank accounts out of reach of investigators and any money lured from victims pile up while they live another day to deceive more people. The real danger is that the emails they send are regenerated in a sense that it lives forever. Let's say Interpol cracked down the largest fraud organization and sent all the ring leaders to jail. But since their account is protected by private banking laws, it still allows transactions and generates money. The triggers they set on the internet keep generating email scripts and floods the online world luring more people into the scam. What a way to make money. I wish I was one of them, nah just kidding.

The other fraud like the one my mum told me about is when spammer trick you that you won a lottery worth millions and you need to submit your details and pay a little processing fee before you can identify yourself and get the prize. The fact is that all they are interested in is the processing fee. Once you pay that fee, their goal is achieved. Imagine they send 500 000 fake letters and emails worldwide. Out of that many half respond and proceeded on to be convinced enough to pay 23 dollars of processing fees. Do the math yourself to work out how much they possibly can make in a day. The figures are mine and it's just my estimate. It could be more or could be less. You can't really verify statistics from criminal activity. But it sure does happen.   

The other common one that I consider fraud is when you receive a text message on your cell phone stating that your phone number has been picked and have won thousands of pounds from a nokia promotion. The weird fact and common logic which you can tell it's a fake is that even people using motorola are winning this nokia promotion. You still win even if you are using other brands. Plain logic, indicating scam. These messages are generated by super computers who scan the airwaves and send out these SMS's. The other indicator of fraud is that they give you email ads such as joeblow@gmail.com .If it was real it would be joeblow@nokia.com. I bet many fell for that. Many came to me to help them. Many I told them it was fake but some of them I just let them...... It wasn't my fault; they were so excited I didn't want to spoil their excitement.   

I think the point I really want to get across is that wealth does not come this easy; many of these scams are successful because it lures people proposing the access to free wealth. If your philosophy is wrong you will always be a victim. Success comes from work, the wealth that comes without hard work will be short lived and never be enjoyed. The entire earth is designed for seeds, cultivate the seeds God placed in you and you shall enjoy the wealth you are dreaming of. The good news is that nobody came to earth without a seed. That's why knowing you already have a seed, the Bible say's be fruitful. Meaning you have to find and develop your seed of greatness by working until it bears fruit.

Until then see you next week. pkasar@itelpng.com  

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