Monday October 8 2012

Fraudsters get on the social network

social media


By Ian Ortega

When Facebook made a resolution that would see it delete the 80 million ‘fake’ Facebook accounts, the evolution of what had become of social media was cast for all to see. Some of these Facebook accounts were apparently opened by pet owners for their pets. Facebook claims 100 billion friend connections have been made on its social network. That is about the same number of humans that have ever lived since 50,000 BC, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

However, among the many friend connections you are making, there is a man or woman whose hopes are vested in scamming you dry. One day, I advertised my business on a trading group’s page on Facebook. The good number of genuine customers I had got in response to the previous advertisements was guarantee that even the next customers would be genuine. (After all, how on earth can a person selling video tutorials get robbed?)

Early the next morning, I received a call from a certain “Shell Uganda manager”, who was recommending me to his friend, a “Bank of Africa manager, Ntinda branch”. I wondered, “what would a bank manager want with video editing tutorials?” But hey, this was business. Who cares whether she needs them or not. I was determined to sell regardless.

To cut the long story short, she asked me to meet her and tell her about the best video editing tutorials so that she could make a large purchase. Since I was coming from the city centre to Ntinda, Madame Sarah as I now knew her, asked me to pass by Crane Bank and help her pick her documents from the surveyor on top of helping pay Shs200,000 to the surveyor.

At this point, it was beyond reasonable doubt that this was a scam. I pretended not to have noticed, even went ahead to meet the surveyor (Sam Mugisha) who ended up sending his driver. Drenched in sweat, in brown-stained black trousers and numerous gaps in the teeth, the driver arrived with documents stapled in an A-3 size white envelope.

I told him point blank that I had no money for him (did I tell you the nearby police was in no mood of getting involved in the arrest?). The driver, with quick strides, walked off to Luwum Street and disappeared into one of those buildings opposite Top Pub. I called Sam Mugisha and Madame Sarah and told them to play their games by a different set of rules.

The ways in which the scams occur
People like these pride themselves in opening up fake Facebook accounts which they fill with all sorts of big titles. Some are lawyers, engineers, doctors, bankers and all those juicy posts that are characteristic of high salary earners. Lawrence Engorit, another Facebook user talks about a one Engineer Geofrey Lukwago, who claims to be a “musajja wa kabaka” and thus prefers to use Luganda only. He coerces his victims with a possibility of giving them a deal to supply MTN, a company he claims to work for as procurement officer, with certain machinery and he even gives you the sellers of the required items.

There is also a new breed of girls and men opening up accounts disguised as sexy, sassy females who are waiting to catch their prey of men whose aphrodisiac momentum is in high gear.

“Once you show interest in them and possibly ask to have them for some fun, then you are finished,” explains Joseph Mutabazi a facebook user who was scammed. “They will ask you to deposit some money to their mobile money accounts prior to the meeting so that they can be able to reach you.” Once the mobile money is sent, their numbers are quickly switched off, never to be reached again.

In the aftermath of the gruesome killing of Cynthia Osokogu by two undergraduates on July 22, 2012, in Festac Town, Lagos State, Nigeria, a more sinister picture about social media was painted. The two undergraduates are friends she had met on Facebook.
Such cases, unfortunately, involve mostly married women who, out of adventure or deprivation, get involved with male friends on the social network only to end up being photographed nude.

Breeds of young “innovative men” befriend married mature women and capitalise on their naivety to lure them to into hotels or exclusive guest houses, where they would end up being drugged. After this, photographs of their nude encounters are recorded and used to fleece them of millions of shillings.

Many of these victims, over time, have found it increasingly difficult to confront their blackmailers for fear of having their nude photos posted on the internet or having their clandestine activities exposed to their husbands. Those who brace up to the challenge by damning the adverse consequences to lodge a report to the police always insist on holding it close to their chests.

And then there is one person who has become the king of social media scams. He is virtually in all facebook groups and other social media forums like Linkedin and Twitter. The most common alias this person uses is Heinz Tushabe. For any of his successful victims, he rips off between Shs50,000 - Shs200,000 promising to teach them online jobs that he claims pay him about $ 5000 (about Shs12m) and tricks the victim into believing that they will make the money in just days if they pay him before they meet, through mobile money.

To make matters worse, he has more than three facebook accounts all under different names, one of which is Claire Naturinda, a female name. But that is not limited to pages on Facebook that specialise in selling goods or services. There are people who promise lots of freebies. One of these is unlimited internet for life. Another is free airtime. What many do not know is that this unlimited internet being sold to them is simply achieved through the use of proxies, and therefore anyone can have access to it without paying a lot of money, as long as they are tech savvy. Also, free airtime is not easy to get since each telecom company has a unique pin code generator serving a specific airtime denomination, and this is not easy to crack.

Is the Ugandan Police ready for the social media scams?
Unlike China, which boasts of an online police of 100,000 tech -savvy personnel, the Ugandan police are in no way ready to handle the online scams. For example in the past, websites of the State House and Prime Minister have been hacked and not a single arrest could be made. The Chinese have the Facebook department that spends time monitoring activity on social media, closing down fake accounts and narrowing down to where the scammers are operating from.

In my case, I talked to two police men at City Square before I met my unsuccessful con-men but none of the policemen was willing to be involved in the arrest. With the growing number of black-hat hackers, there should be an equal increase in the number of ethical hackers.

Today, it has become easy to hack Facebook accounts with just simple SQL injection attacks or other procedures that are known to many curious youths. We have users pretending to be actual celebrities on social media, who fleece victims under the guise of the celebrities and famous people.