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Beware of new, slick 419 scams, expert warns

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Jul 17, 2018

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A lucrative job offer landed in Paul’s inbox for a contract administrator at Zenith Construction and Mining Crusher in Accra, Ghana.

The perks included a personal driver, a 36-hour week, and when Paul (not his real name) asked if they could up the salary offer, they did, substantially.

But soon requests for money came. He had to pay a courier fee of $180 (R2387). Then they asked for a refundable fee of $1000, which they said was just in case he failed to show up for the job, Paul paid.

Everything appeared legitimate. “They even sent me a plane ticket. How did they get that? It was a KLM flight, business class,” says Paul.

Then there were also official-looking banking documents he had to fill out and sign, and receipts for the money he had paid.

Paul didn’t know it at the time, but he was being drawn into a new-look 419 scam, that is harder to spot and far more slick. Once these types of scams came written in capital letters and the poor command of English was glaring.

“In the past you could spot them a mile away,” says Brigadier Piet Pieterse, section head of the Hawks Cyber Crime Unit.

“Now it is a quality approach, they are much more professional.

“The English is perfect, and they use quality documents.”

The 419 scams or Advance Fee fraud have been around a long time. Before the internet, they arrived by fax. But still people fall for them.

Market research company Columinate, recently published their latest annual digital banking report. They found that 22% of their respondents fell victim to these criminals over the past year.

They noted a couple of new scams that appeared this year.

Eight percent of users fell victim to the “you are a winner” scam, they discovered.

They found that 13% of users fell victim to the advanced “Fee Loan”.

Another 4% were conned with the “request for help” e-mail fraud, which is an upgrade of the original 419 scam, where in return for help, riches are promised.

Interestingly, 6% of users admitted they were scammed by a traditional 419.

The marketing company based their research on the responses of more than 13000 South African e-bankers.

Often those committing these crimes are members of sophisticated syndicates.

“You need to look at the unique characteristics associated with this crime and this is that it is borderless. This makes the investigative methodology extremely complex,” Pieterse said.

“But I think with the assistance of prosecutorial authorities and law enforcement around the world, it is possible to track down these people.”

Pieterse said it was important that victims report these crimes to the police. The 419 scamsters have been arrested in South Africa in the past.

Cyber investigator Eckhard Volker said one client lost R1million in an Advanced Fee scam.

“The problem is that once your money has been taken it is difficult to get it back,” he said.

But identifying the perpetrators, he said, was easy using standard forensic techniques.

When Paul was asked for $500 to open a bank account, he became suspicious.

“I phoned and I got an answering machine. I had expected a switchboard.

“Thirty minutes later they called and said they really need the money to open the account.

“That was when I refused. By then it had cost me R30000,” Paul said.

The Saturday Star

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