In the US, a popular job placement agency was used as the hunting grounds for scammers looking to take advantage of people in desperate need of work.
The scam was simple – set up an alluring job offer, get victims to enter highly sensitive personal information, use the information to either draw the victims into personalised scams or to sell on to fraudsters.
The entire con was designed to prey on the vulnerabilities of those most affected by the pandemic. According to Anna Collard, MD of KnowBe4 Africa, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“It is truly awful how scammers are using social media and phishing campaigns to take advantage of misfortune,” she adds. “Those who are most likely to fall for these scams are those who are the most vulnerable and really need the money that’s being stolen from them. These scams are playing into people’s fear and anxiety to trick them into making decisions they normally wouldn’t make.”
It’s a dark kind of clever and it’s permeated all countries and continents. In Africa, a scam used a fake social media profile of Margaret Kenyatta, Kenya’s president’s wife, to trick people into paying money to benefit from a coronavirus relief fund. The scam asked people to pay KES 599 to register for the fund and the money went directly into fraudster bank accounts. There are variations of this across the continent.
“There are numerous WhatsApp scams currently circulating,” says Collard. “They invite people to join amazing investment schemes that sound fantastic, but are actually phishing scams and chancers looking to take what money they can during the crisis. There is a trend of scammers shifting their attention to mobile platforms as people tend to be more aware on email than they are on their mobile phones and many of Africa’s mobile users are exposed to the internet for the first time.”
In South Africa, the pandemic has seen many people register for grants from the Social Security Agency (SASSA) and scammers are pretending that they’re from the agency, getting people to pay a fake ‘registration’ fee. SASSA has been alerted to the con and has told citizens that the registration is free, but there are still people who need the grants and who don’t know what to look out for to spot a fake. It’s easy for them to fall for scammers asking them to pay to get their service or share their personal information.
“Older scams are also being repurposed for the pandemic,” says Collard. “The voucher scheme that uses the names of well-known retail brands has recently come back. This asks people to register for fake vouchers and thereby hand over a ton of personal information because they’re being promised extra discounts and savings because of COVID-19. People are more vulnerable because of fear and stress, and the desperation of losing money, so they’re falling for these scams because they want, and need, the help.”
Collard advises that people need to be more careful and aware than ever before. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a well-known brand or government agency asks you for deeply personal information or asks you to pay an upfront registration fee, it’s probably a fake. If you receive an SMS or a WhatsApp message or an email asking you to click on a link to ‘complete registration’, be aware – make sure that the link is legitimate. Agencies like SASSA use SMS and WhatsApp to complete citizen registration and scammers send out fake links to steal citizen’s information and money.
“Stay alert, be wary of things, don’t necessarily believe things shared by your friends, and don’t give out personal information like ID numbers, PIN numbers, bank or login details,” concludes Collard. “It’s fundamentally awful that people would do this to those in need in the midst of a pandemic, but it’s happening, and the best protection is to be extra alert and vigilant.”