TSHEPO JAMILLAH MOYO calls on all Internet users to watch out for scammers.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay indoors and work from their homes, Internet usage in Botswana also spiked by 22 000 between 2020 and 2021.
According to Data Portal’s Digital Botswana report published on HootSuite, in January 2021 there were 1.12 million Internet users in Botswana comprising 1,283,00 Facebook users, 192,100 Instagram users, 314,200 LinkedIn users, 73,120 Twitter users, and 60, 887 TikTok users. In recent months, Botswana reported a rising trend of social media users falling victim to cybercrimes, scammers and hackers.
Fake social media suitors
Some of the scams included elaborate long-term cons such as victims who enter romantic relationships with social media suitors who use fake profiles and stolen identities, they end up scamming them. In some of these reported cases, the scammer eventually offers to send the victim a parcel that will apparently have cash or some kind of high-end gift.
A few days later, the victim gets a call from someone claiming to represent a shipping company saying there is a fee to pay in order for the package to be released. However, once the fee is paid, the scammer ceases all communication and the parcel never arrives.
One Facebook user, Lebo Busa, says she was approached by another user claiming that an investment of P500 in cryptocurrency would result in a profit of P1 600 in less than 10 hours. After investing, she was required to submit a video speaking about how she had received her profit. Thankfully, she was able to realise that she was being scammed when asked to send passwords that would give the man access to her accounts. Had Busa submitted the video and passwords, her account would have been used to recruit more people to ‘invest.’
Allure of big brands
Hackers have also taken over Instagram accounts of digital content creators who make their livelihoods off their pages. Some of the hacks happen via inboxes promising collaboration between them and a big brand or through malicious links on other apps. Tatyana Makuku, a digital entrepreneur, was hacked via Zoom. The hacker then took over her dance school social media platform, deleted all her content, and began monetising the page which had thousands of followers that she had built over years.
Although she was able to retrieve her page through a cyber security expert and Facebook support, the damage to her online presence resulted in revenue loss. The process, which took almost a year, meant she could not advertise her dance classes or other services at that time. She will also never be able to retrieve the deleted content such as high streamed videos that she used in her marketing.
Socio-economic pressures motivate fraudsters to commit these acts while poverty and financial burdens cause civilians to relax their guard out of desperation. According to Our Fraud – the Facts 2021 report, sponsored by LexisNexis Risk Solution, “Criminals used the COVID-19 pandemic to target victims online, through impersonation scams, romance fraud, and investment scams.”
Cyber security expert, Itumeleng Garebatshabe, agrees that Batswana may also be the perfect victims of online scams because many are new to Internet use and have little to no awareness of cyber security or the dangers of the dark web. He advises that in order to protect themselves, anyone using the internet should activate two-factor authorisation.
“This is a security measure that requires two passwords to access your personal account by sending one to your phone. These passwords or codes should not be shared with anyone,” says Garebatshabe.
He also encourages Internet users to be extra-cautious of any ‘opportunity’ that finds its way to their direct messages, or email inbox. “If you think you’ve found something legitimate and want to get involved, make sure you do plenty of research on the Internet before signing anything or sending any money,” he says.