10 November 2012

Zambia: The Day I Stretched Cyber Conmen to the Breaking Point


Internet scams have become a familiar occurrence in recent years and people have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and other currencies to conmen.

But should you lose your money to these crooks? No, says ROY KUSEKA, who resolved to give the crime stars a taste of their own medicine by suggesting a novel idea that saved him from possible loss of his hard earned cash

ON opening my e-mail box sometime in 2009, among the mail I received was one with a screaming headline - Congratulations!

This made me really anxious to understand what the congratulatory message was about as I had not taken part in any competition, to the best of my recollection, to warrant an electronic congratulatory message.

What's more, I hadn't landed a promotion at my work place, either.

So why was I being congratulated and by who?

When I accessed my mailbox, therefore, I found it quite natural to first read the congratulatory letter.

When I opened it, I was greeted by a colourful, picture - decorated letter.

The pictures bore similar wording, save for the years like '2008 winners, 2007 winners ..."

Apparently the mail came from a company in London purported to be promotion agents for the BMW car makers, and the letter carried the exciting news, as it were, that I was among the 10 lucky winners of a BMW car each for the 2009 promotion programme.

As I read the mail, I wondered how the company obtained my email address.

This worry was quickly cleared, however, as the letter explained in clear terms that my email address was randomly extracted, as per that company's standing yearly routine, from the Yahoo address database.

Probably to remove doubt about the authenticity of the promotion and my being one of the ostensible 10 winners, the congratulatory mail was splashed with five colourful pictures of allegedly excited past winners (2004 -2008) who were photographed with friends standing next to their BMW prize cars.

The pictures were intended to dissuade me from being a doubting Thomas.

While my instinct quickly told me that I could be playing in the hands of sophisticated swindlers, I, nonetheless, resolved to stretch the tricks of these swindlers to the extreme limit or breaking point.

With a feeling of personal triumph, therefore, l decided to acknowledge receipt, with profound happiness, of their message about the news.

As advised in the congratulatory email, I sent by return email my happy response to the given address and, thereafter, waited for further directives on how to claim my prized BMW car.

About three or four days later, I was informed that the office I was advised to contact had apparently received not only my 'car', but also a cheque for a cash prize, something of a bonus to the car that winners received, so I was informed.

In the meantime, I decided to contact a colleague (now late) based in London just to help verify the telephone numbers, area code, physical and postal addresses the "promotion agent" was using.

Just as well I did! The response was shocking. The addresses did not appear in the public address register, much less the phone numbers which turned out to be equally fake !

You see, conmen appear to be a step ahead of all of us all the time; as their sharp minds scheme shady deals to steal from their targets.

Their schemes are intently camouflaged so that it's not easy for their unsuspecting victims to see through ruse.

As such, I could hardly be amused when in the course of exchanging emails with me, the conmen, cleverly (if that's the right word) demanded proof that I was a competent driver.

They asked for a photocopy of my driving licence. Of course, I considered this condition irrelevant, even ridiculous, but I realised that the conmen just wanted to carry me along in their thick scheme of things by applying this make- believe conditionality.

The idea was to disguise their intent to dupe me.

I sent the photocopy of the driving licence but it took days before the conmen communicated again.

This time they presented me with three car shipment or delivery options, which, interestingly, had corresponding freight charges and I was advised to pick one.

Now, as I guessed, I could sense where the crunch of the matter lay.

After beating about the bush, the moment to ask for money arrived.

Upon communicating my preferred option, that is, option two, that meant receiving my 'car' within two weeks, the response from the conmen was what I had expected all along - request to remit cash so that they could institute shipment formalities as they were in possession of my car and cheque!

But I'd resolved to give them a taste of their own medicine by suggesting that the company proceed to make arrangements with the BMW firm to allow them (conmen) cash my cheque and later deduct freight charges from my cash prize, then send the balance to me together with the 'car'.

Alas! my reasonable and sensible suggestion (by all standards) abruptly signaled the end of my communication with the conmen.

No reply came forth and no reply has been forthcoming since then, let alone my prized BMW 'car'!

On reflection, it is important for people caught up in such cyber scams not to rush into sending cash once asked to do so by swindlers.

Indeed stories abound of people hurriedly borrowing money and secretly sending to claim their, ultimately anyway, non - existent cash prizes.

And when people end up being duped by swindlers, they find it embarrassing to even open up and share their sad experiences with anyone.

They simply lose out quietly and deeply annoyed inwardly.

Always share with someone unexpected win news in competitions you are not even a participant.

For me I stretched the swindlers to the limit with the knowledge of my wife and the late colleague who was based in London.

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