Beware the scammers

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Sakawa boys

We have recently seen an increase in reported crime in Rye, however one area of crime that rarely gets reported is that of cyber crime – internet scams. Most of us have heard of them and there can be few who have not received an unsolicited email from a West African “prince” who just happens to have come across $25 million that he would like to dump into your bank account for a few days, and offers you $10 million for the privilege. All he needs is your complete bank details …

A more recent version of this is a phone call from India, but appearing to come from a London number, made by a gentleman masquerading as an official from HMRC and threatening arrest if you do not pay money that he says has been part of a tax fraud. The only fraud, of course, is him.

Another version comes from the enterprising chap who offers you superior internet protection for the (relatively) modest sum of around £100 / £200 a year. A few months after signing up, you receive a panic phone call from the ‘protection’ company saying a major drugs deal, or something similar, is going down using your computer and thereby involving you in the crime. They can, however, stop this if you agree to a very advanced, but expensive, level of protection. There is a report of one man being scammed out of £4,000 by this trick.

All this and other variations may seem fairly obvious and most of us would say that we would never be so naive as to be caught by it. However there is one form of internet scam that is on the increase because it is proving extremely lucrative for the scammers. It works because it plays on that deepest of emotions – love.

The scammers, mainly in Ghana or Nigeria, work largely through dating websites, particularly those catering for an older clientele who perhaps find themselves on their own after many years with a partner. The scammers are usually young, make a lot of money on their scams which they are happy to flaunt around their local town often owning large houses and driving expensive European cars.

They post a picture and a profile of a good looking man or woman, usually a little younger than the average age of their target audience. The pictures are lifted from elsewhere on the internet – often social media sites – and the rest of the profile is complete fiction. As Rye has a significant population of mature years, what follows below and in the second part of this report next week, may be of interest.

Using this, they make contact with their chosen victim and begin grooming them to the point where, after some weeks, the victim genuinely believes that the two of them are developing a romantic attachment. By now more pictures and many messages will have been exchanged and they will have been in daily contact for some time, although always by text – a youngish European lady is hardly going to be convincing if the sounds like a twenty-something with a strong West African accent. As soon as the scammer believes they have someone firmly on the hook, the requests for money will start. It may be small sums at first and there will always be a promise to repay it out of funds which they are due to receive at any moment.

Over a period, the requests for money will be repeated, always with a heart-rending tale attached (sister in car accident somewhere in the world where her treatment has to be paid for before she receives it, for example) and the amount of money required will grow. Scammer and victim will not, of course, have met and the excuse for that will be that the person in the photo is far away from the UK, possibly in the army, or on an oil rig or working for his company, but in all cases will be due home soon with substantial funds.

The total amounts of money passed over by individuals varies, but there are reports of £30k upwards to £1 million. Two or three years ago the gross figure for the UK was £30 million lost in this way. Sussex Police (who have several case studies on their web site) have recently updated that figure to £50 million and some sources put it higher. This equates to a staggering £11,000 per victim.

You may ask yourself how could anyone be so foolish? The answer is twofold: first when we are in love we will prefer to believe our loved one and objective consideration often plays little part, and second these people are organised gangs (called Sakawa in Ghana), highly organised, very ‘professional’ and undoubted Oscar winners in their ability to be convincing – and there is no question, they are very, very convincing.

I know this because a few weeks ago I received an unsolicited contact request on Skype (the world-wide text, audio and video messaging service that I use for talking to friends and family overseas). Normally when this happens, I simply use the block option and the contact disappears, However, this time I was curious, having recently been looking at the levels of internet fraud, so clicked on accept. What happened will be in part 2 of Beware the Scammers next week together with more information on how they work and how to recognise and avoid a Sakawa scam.

Image Credits: YouTube .

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