By April 8, 2020

How Internet Desperadoes Are Preying On Pandemic Distress & Scamming People

By April 8, 2020

In a press release that was sent out on Monday, April 6, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) warned Nigerians to be wary of cybercriminals who are determined to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a smokescreen for pulling off scams.

Nigeria’s apex bank warned that men of the ‘internet underworld’ are now taking advantage of the anxiety created by the pandemic to defraud, steal sensitive information or gain unauthorised access to computers or mobile devices using various techniques.

This warning became necessary because there has been a COVID-19-related surge in cybercriminal activities all over the world. In South Africa, for instance, hackers recently targeted over 300,000 devices during a particularly crazy one-week period, mostly using brute-force attacks.

But it seems the strategy of the internet desperadoes have now been somewhat fine-tuned such that it’s now about having the target open up itself rather than trying to forcefully pry it open. And here’s an attempt at exposing their modus operandi.

The Phishing Play

In Nigeria, for example, cybercriminals are now sending out emails masquerading as officials of health organisations such as Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) or the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Such phishing emails typically contain a link which if clicked on typically steals login credentials or other confidential information from the victim’s computer or mobile device.

These cyber vermins typically come bearing gifts, pretending to be some kind of “Easter Santa” that has brought relief in such troubled times. Hence, people are lured to give themselves up unsuspectingly. 

The net result is that these unfeeling cybercriminals leave their targets trapped in a deeper hole than the COVID-19-shaped economic hole that a lot of people are trying to not get swallowed in.

The Relief Package Ploy

Besides phishing emails, cybercriminals have also been sending messages via social media or emails asking people to click on links to register in order to get their COVID-19 relief from the government or other organisations.

The relief package scams also come in the form of phone calls asking people to provide their banking details to receive relief packages. 

In some cases, the perpetrators place phone calls to individuals claiming to be bank staff asking them to download mobile applications that would help them get through the duration of the pandemic. 

The scammers appear to be taking advantage of the fact that it is common knowledge that donations (monetary and otherwise) have been flying in from everywhere since COVID-19 infections began to spike locally.

In the past few weeks, several people have gotten anonymous calls and texts from random strangers requesting sensitive personal information like Bank Verification Number (BVN) in the name of wanting to disburse a relief package from certain reputable institutions.

Other scammers have taken their evil relief package plot to the internet. One such example, the “Atiku Care Foundation Relief Funds for COVID-19,” claims to be the initiative of Nigeria’s former Vice-President and a presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Atiku Abubakar.

The fraudulent website, which has no affiliations whatsoever to Atiku, promises NGN 10 K weekly to all persons who register on the platform. The catch? That would be the registration process which demands that the intending beneficiaries provide personal information like their phone numbers and emails.

The CBN has since warned that this is another method used by scammers to export confidential information from unsuspecting victims.

The Online Scams

The triple-threat of fake news, scams, and cyberattacks is expected to increase during this period, INTERPOL has warned. “Scammers are trying to take advantage of the pandemic situation to dupe people,” the transnational police organisation said.

In a series of tweets dated March 29, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) did echo those same sentiments when it warned that criminals are on the loose and ready to take advantage of people’s anxiety to cause havoc online.

The NPF said scammers have created and set up fraudulent e-commerce platforms, websites, social media accounts, and emails to defraud victims. A typical scam tries to convince people to buy coronavirus-related medical products. Victims are then asked to pay via bank transfer,” the police said.

And this is another fraudulent ploy that everyone should be wary of in these times.

The Donation Duping

These types of scams typically impersonate the government or some reputable non-governmental organisation (NGO). 

One viral example is a fake donations request letter from Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance. It took advantage of the fact that a number of affluent individuals and companies had recently announced ‘big’ donations to support Nigeria’s efforts to contain the virus.

Many of those widely-publicised donations were featured in the fake request letter which beckoned on people to give the little they have to aid the government in the fight against COVID-19. 

The bogus letter, which has since been disowned by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance, seemed authentic even though it was totally a scam. And it was playing on the tendency of people to be magnanimous when it looks like donations are being collected for a good cause.

But in truth, any donation that went through that medium would’ve only enriched a scamster.

Apart from all the above points, Ponzi schemes, wonder banks, and ‘too-good-to-be-true offers’ are other examples of fraudulent schemes that scammers are likely to use for their swindling game in these times. And everyone’s got to stay woke.

Featured Image Courtesy: SC Media

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