Pickpocketing Goes Digital

May 28 , 2022
By Kidist Yidnekachew

With great power comes great responsibility. This is what technology has been to us lately – a great power but we have underestimated the massive responsibility that comes with it. The matter runs the gamut from creating public awareness on how to utilise technological products to protecting themselves from hackers and other online scams. Most of us have at some point either experienced firsthand or heard of online scams. And there seem to be many of them nowadays. I do not know if it is because the younger generation is fixated on making quick money, or if it is the inflation and the cost of living that has led to the flourishing of a scam industry.

What probably makes a recent scam I heard about different from the rest is that, without the help of an inside person from a well-recognised establishment, it could not be executed. A relative of mine received a phone call from people pretending to be from one of the banks. They asked for her personal information, which she provided. Then they called her again immediately, but this time telling her something about the system shutting down and for her to tell them a shortcode that had been sent to her phone.

In the middle of all of that, my relative’s phone vibrated and she started getting notifications from her bank. The messages read that she has withdrawn money three times, 15,000 Br in total. It finally hit her. She fed the number the scammers was using to an app called Truecaller, and it came out reading, “ya bank leba,” or bank thief. Apparently, other people also felt for this trick and saved the number as “bank thief” so it will appear on the app. She tried calling them but it was too late. The damage has been done. When she tried calling the number again the phone was switched off.

Given the physical state she was in, she could not have gone to the bank to report it. She had to tell a police officer in her area to do it for her. One would think that these scammers stop at that. A week later, they called her friend (perhaps these scammers have something against my relative) but since her friend already knew she called them out.

If it is not clear by now, I am talking about cardless cash withdrawal (where one can withdraw money without a debit card at an ATM). It is a helpful feature but it is being abused already. It is possible to pull such a con only if the scammers have an inside person from the bank; otherwise they would not get the full info needed to withdraw the money.

Apparently, this has been around for some time but I only came across it very recently. It made me so angry and disappointed at the same time. Angry because these people are stealing other people’s money and getting away with it, and disappointed because one cannot place trust in anyone, not even banks.

I have heard of similar scam stories before that are connected to mobile or internet banking carried out with a partner in crime (an inside person). A few years ago, a man lost 40,000 Br to a similar scam. The money was stolen as one of the tellers of a bank managed to get a hold of the manager’s password. The victim ended up suing the bank. The thieves were arrested and the bank told him they will return the money to him after the investigation was finished. I do not know how long that took. Imagine if that was all he had saved up in the bank; he would be in a financial crisis.

The public should not be left defenseless in the face of such crimes. The government should regulate and bring the thieves and scammers to justice and return the stolen money to the victims immediately.

PUBLISHED ON May 28,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1152]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (kaymina21@gmail.com)

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