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Falling prey to online fraudsters

By | November 18th 2009

By Paul Kimanzi

Technology based fraud schemes in Kenya started via mobile phones where con artists would send SMS to people claiming they had won money or prizes.

The fraudsters would then give contact details to enable the ‘beneficiary’ to follow up the matter.
The beneficiary would then be asked to send personal details including bank account and identity card numbers. Then they moved a step ahead to demand money to ‘process’ and deliver the prize money.

Many people fell for the trap before the fraudsters were unmasked. Few, though, still do fall to the trap.

The conmen changed tact and have now upgraded their scheme. They are using the Internet as their key tool of trade. I thought I was wise and could not fall victim to the fraudsters, but recently I learnt the hard way.
"You have one unread message," stated my Yahoo mail when I logged in. But when I read the message, it hit me like a bullet.

Account to be closed

"Yahoo mail has discovered a series of illegal attempts on your Yahoo account from bad IP location and will shut your account as it has been flagged as a spam account.
You are thus immediately required to secure your online access by manually filling the form below," the message read.

" Click on the reply-to button on your page, fill the correct information carefully and send the form to Yahoo Alert Centre..." it continued.
The form required me to fill in my user name, password, date of birth and my country or territory.
The message further read: "After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thank you for your attention to this request. We apologise for any inconveniences."

The last part of the message said: "Warning! Any account owner who refuses to update his or her account before two weeks of receiving this warning will lose his or her account permanently."
I found myself between a rock and a hard place. I suspected I could be a victim of online fraudsters but still couldn’t prove it.

If the message is genuine and I fail to respond accordingly, it meant I was going to lose my account. If it is from scammers and I reply, I would end up revealing my private details to a third party.

Real message

I decided to dismiss the message and wait for whatever would happen to the account.
One week later, the same email was resent to me. But I adamantly clung to my decision not to fill the form.
Two days before the deadline, the same message was sent to me again forcing me to start getting alarmed.

However, I still suspected the email could be fraudulent because previously, I had received messages where the sender claimed to be a lawyer whose client had died and left a huge sum of money in his account. The lawyer claimed he wanted to transfer the deceased’s money to my account on condition that I share it with him the money on 50-50 basis.

But I refused to respond to such deals. I could not even tell where they got my email address.
The latest message looked real and I needed an urgent solution.

I sought advice from my online journalism lecturer.

I printed the message as it appeared in my inbox and gave it to him.

Upon careful examination, he said the email message was genuine and was from Yahoo and advised me to reply. I heeded his advice.
Three days later, I received a call from a friend telling me that he had received my email message that I had been robbed and I was now requesting for his urgent help.

By the end of the day, I had received many other calls from friends asking me about the same story.
This was shocking news since I had never written such emails.
The following morning I received another call from a friend with the same story.
I now realised somebody must have accessed my Yahoo account and sent the mails. I went to a cyber cafe to check my account. I could not access my account. Yahoo responded by saying ‘invalid password or user name’ every time I tried to sign in. My password had been changed.

Raising money

I realised the fraudsters have been sending emails in my name asking for money from people even those I had never communicated with.
They have all my private information including my curriculum vitae (CV). My ignorance has caused me my
reputation. I almost blamed it on my lecturer.
One of my friends in the UK replied to the conmen and was preparing to meet and ‘rescue me’ as he didn’t realise that he had been duped. Luckily, I got to know of the fraud before he could send the money and I warned him.

Below is a copy of one of the messages, which the fraudsters sent to my friends.

The fraudulent letter

"From: paul kimanzi
To:[email protected]
Sent: Thursday, November
05, 2009 9:26 PM
Subject: Please help me

Please, this has had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state. I am in some terrible situation and I’m really going to need your urgent help.

Yesterday, unannounced, I came to visit a new researchers’ complex in London, Imperial College London, Gallery Section, (South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ), England. Well, we actually got robbed in the Hotel I booked in and they made away with my wallet (which included my cash, diaries and credit cards).

My cell phones were not brought along since I did not get the roaming service before coming over. The phone cables have been burnt. The hotel’s database has been compromised as well. So all I can do now is pay cash and get out of here quickly. I do not want to make a scene that is why I did not call the office or my house. This is embarrassing enough.

Please I want you to lend me £800, just to clear my hotel bills and get the next plane home. The consulate only cleared me of my travelling documents and ticketing since I came in as a tourist and not on official purpose.

I shall have your money reimbursed immediately on my return. I’ll be waiting for you at the hotel lobby for your mail.
Use the details below to transfer the money.

NAME- Paul Kimanzi
ADDRESS- 103 Harley Street
CITY- London

Thank you so much. Please once you send the Money scan a copy of the Western Union receipt and help me write out the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN).
Regards. Paul.

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