Beware, scammers are after you on the phone

Rising number of people being defrauded on WhatsApp is cause for concern

In Summary

• Many are falling for too-good-to-be-true deals in these desperate times

Image: OZONE

There are so many digital scams affecting people every day that unless you are particularly tech savvy, it really is getting harder and harder to keep up.

Just a few days ago, I heard about one in which two different people called one person to thank them for money sent to them, and the calls were followed by a text message purporting to enable the supposed sender to send GIFs and memes with their next money gift.

The trouble here was that the person had not sent any money to anyone, and because they were on their guard after the dodgy phone calls, were suspicious of the text message and did not act on it, preferring to warn their friends to be careful instead.

I was also targeted recently with a message telling me that a delivery to me had been held up at the post office and suggesting that I click on a link which would lead me to a page where the whole problem could be quickly cleared up.

Fortunately, I don’t generally receive unsolicited deliveries or parcels, and I have other ways of communicating with anyone who would be sending me a delivery. Also, not having lived here for more than a decade, nobody who knows me would send me anything by post.

The telecommunication operators seem to be aware and are taking action to alert their customers. 

For instance, one of the telcos I subscribe to put out a message telling its customers not to answer calls from numbers that they couldn’t identify or that looked suspicious and to report such numbers to the telco.

Now reading that, you may be wondering what harm could come from answering a phone call. Let me tell you what I learnt towards the end of last year.

The communications arm of a company that deals with generative AI got in touch with me as a journalist to reveal the latest high-tech scam.

They told me they had recently discovered that you only need one minute of someone’s voice to create a deep fake of them. Apparently, this had been demonstrated to them by someone creating a deep fake video of US President Joe Biden thanking them for attending a talk he had given. 

They said this use of a deep fake went to show how using artificial intelligence tools to clone voices has introduced an entirely novel realm of risk for both companies and individuals and got them thinking about how a WhatsApp voice note falling into the wrong hands could put people at risk.

Their expert explained how incredibly adept the scammers have become at using readily available online tools to create realistic conversations that mimic the voice of specific individuals using just a few seconds of recorded audio. 

Already, such scams have targeted individuals making purchases from online platforms and even engaged in fake kidnapping scams.

Last year, while working for a South African newspaper, I wrote a news story about how that country’s former Public Protector (Ombudsperson) had fallen for a WhatsApp scam, losing thousands of Rand in the process.

She said she and a friend had lost money after falling victim to an alleged scammer who posed as a mutual friend.

Just as I was writing this, a friend sent me a message about a friend of theirs who had fallen for a similar scam and lost more than Sh200,000, and that within hours, my friend’s relative lost nearly Sh100,000 to a WhatsApp scammer. 

It is understandable that in these tough economic times, companies and individuals offering what seem like once-in-a-lifetime offers to get rich quick or at least ease your financial burden can be tempting, but always keep in mind the evergreen saying: If something looks too good to be true or sounds like an unbelievable deal, it is usually a scam.

Meanwhile, in totally unrelated news, if this column has touched you, perhaps you might want to send a cheque to my new for-profit organisation: Columnists Against Scammers Help, or CASH for short, care of my address. I will be eternally grateful. (Insert evil cackle here).

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star