You’ve probably received a text message or a call telling you that you have won a lottery that you have not participated in or a voucher for shopping in some shop yet you have not been there.
Alternatively, you could have been promised a lucrative deal in the form of investing at no risk in a particular scheme or being pressured to make an investment decision in a limited time since the opportunity will close.
If this has happened to you, and you have been asked to book a slot or pay a deposit upfront, then you could have been targeted by fraudsters who have excelled in the advance fee scam.
This scam is not new and it entails getting unsuspecting people to part with their money for non-existent investments or returns. The language used by the scammers is usually flowery with promises that will push any unsuspecting individual into making that first step.
In this piece, we look at some of the advance fee fraud scams, the red flags to look out for when you are highly likely to be scammed, and tips to help beat the scammers at their own game.
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Scammers keep evolving and upgrading their trickery to ensure they stay in business.
The varieties of advance fee fraud schemes that exist today are only limited by the scammer’s creativity but they always find a way. The so-called ‘Kamiti Prison’ texts are a good testament to how these fraudsters keep rolling with the punches.
They started with sending text messages saying you have won a certain amount but to get it you have to pay some fee upfront, then graduated to pretending to be school administrators soliciting for money to buy school items “for your child” or transport money when schools are closing.
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In investments, some con artists will go as far as promising to locate financing options for clients who pay a "finder's fee" up front. Unfortunately once the finder’s fee is paid, the victim learns they are ineligible for financing or that the contract has been signed by another client who paid before you.
The typical types of advance fee fraud scams include the following:
Con artists will tell you that they need your assistance to obtain funds from a bank in another country. Typically, the victim has passed away, and the criminal claims that the money will be given over to the authorities if they do not respond soon. They also promise to give you a sizeable amount to you once the money has been cleared. The only catch is that you have to give some cash to help get the process started.
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This scam tells you that you have won some money in some lottery. However for you to be able to claim your prizes, you have to pay some fee to get the process to send you the winnings started. It may come with a message asking for your personal information to prove your identity.
You receive a call from an investment firm asking for help with an international investment. If it is an email or a text, it will appear to be from a respected investment firm. The message may also have something from the government to make it seem legit.
To get started, the email will instruct you to get in touch with the business, where you will be required to make some kind of upfront payment in exchange for a huge profit that will come afterward. When this happens, you are a potential fraud victim unless you get to pick on the red flags that we will discuss a bit later in this piece.
If you haven’t received a text message from an NGO worker in Lodwar seeking for love, then maybe you should count yourself lucky. For those who fall prey to this hopeless romantic, they end up high and dry after having been milked their finances. The scam lover will say they are coming to see you but en route, they get stuck fuelling their cars and cannot use their bank card or they don’t have money on M-Pesa to pay and thus ask you to advance them the cash to be refunded when they get to your destination. Well, if you fall for this, you’ll end up disappointed waiting for a lover who will never arrive.
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Despite this being a very dire situation, scammers will not miss an opportunity to exploit the goodwill of people who would not be generous with their money to help with medical bills. The scammers circulate images of people who are very sick and who will die if they do not receive medical attention. The pleas tug at the hearts of well-wishers who will offer what they offer to help. Unbeknown to many, these medical bill scams end up enriching a few individuals while the real beneficiaries do not get a single penny solicited on their behalf.
How this works is that someone calls you after sending you a text message seemingly from a mobile money provider showing that you have received money from them erroneously. They ask that you send them back the money and depending on the state they find you in, you may oblige if you fail to notice that the text message is not from a service provider. To avoid falling prey, let anyone who calls you with this ask the mobile money provider to reverse the transaction. It is the only way to protect yourself and help you not waste time.
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In Nairobi, and in many other urban areas, people will see things! If you have ever had to move houses on short notice, you may relate to this. So, you are on a house hunt and you need that house by day end. You move around but you don’t find a house. You happen to see a signboard or a contact online who promises to get you the house. They send you pictures and you like what you are seeing especially because the house is in the area you really need to move to. You may even get to see the house and on deciding, the games begin in earnest.
To get this house, the contact tells you that you have to secure it by paying a deposit because it’s in high demand and you may lose out if someone pays before you do. Sound familiar? Well, since you are desperate, you oblige and then head home to finish packing and then move to your new house. Isn’t God wonderful? Then to your shock, you call the guy and ako mteja. You try again and again and again… But, you know the place right? You decide to head over there with your stuff since the moving guys are all set now. When you get there, you are surprised to find the owner who knows nothing about the house being rented out or the person who showed you the house…It ends in tears.
While this list is not exhaustive, the fraudsters operate in an almost similar fashion and there are red flags that you cannot miss. Some other frauds that could leave you reeling in financial agony are; Career opportunity scams, loan scams, work-from-home, and business opportunity scams among others.
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In case you encounter fraudsters in any of their scams, look out for these red flags:
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Fraud scams are prevalent throughout the year but there are some times they shoot up significantly during the holiday seasons, schools opening and closing, etc.
Similarly, advance fee fraud scams will maximise every opportunity and try to confuse potential victims. You need to be on the lookout for these thieves who will take advantage of your trust to steal your money by being cautious at all times.
The advance fee scam is particularly prevalent in the long holiday seasons some of which could be vouchers and other tickets that will have you believing they are genuine.
As a consumer, the best is to always be aware of what is happening around you and the knowledge that anyone is vulnerable to an attack.
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Now that we know how these scammers operate and what they are after, here is how to protect yourself from being scammed.