Mobile phone scams: People continue to fall victim despite warnings

Pic: Courtesy secondtouch.com
Pic: Courtesy secondtouch.com

As smartphone technology continues to evolve at a fast pace reaching even the most remote areas in Sri Lanka, it has also paved the way for an increasing number of mobile phone scams.

Despite constant reporting and warnings by experts, people continue to fall victim to scammers repeatedly, losing hundred thousands of rupees to the fraudsters. On February 5, the Special Crimes Investigation Unit of the Mount Lavinia Police apprehended three people suspected of having swindled a person of Rs. 1,176,000 through a mobile phone scam. According to the Police, the trio, an organized gang of two men and a female had contacted the victim claiming he had won a competition hosted by a leading mobile service provider. Having convinced the victim, the suspects had then requested him to transfer a significant amount of money through the Ez Cash system to claim the prize he had supposedly won.

Finally, realizing that he had been taken for a ride, the victim lodged a complaint with the Police on January 28, after which the Special Crimes Investigation Unit of the Mount Lavinia Police commenced investigations leading to the arrests.

In the light of the recent arrests, the Sunday Observer spoke to several mobile phone users who had also been similarly approached by fraudsters. When contacted through text messaging and phone calls by the con artists, Anoma Mendis and Piyum Udara Karasnagoda were fortunate to have realized that it was a mobile phone scam. According to Karasnagoda, he has been approached a number of times in the recent past. “In the most recent incident, I received a call saying that I had won Rs. 1 million in a popular draw conducted by a mobile service provider,” he said, adding that the con artist had then requested Karasnagoda to call him back on the same number within 10 minutes. Despite realizing it was a scam he did call back to find out more information. Karasnagoda recalls that the person on the other end sounded extremely professional.


Pic: Courtesy eastrypc.co.uk

“During this call he asked me a number of personal questions such as name, bank details and credit card details,” he said. Having replied with false information, Karasnagoda had warned the con that he would lodge a complaint with the Police which prompted the conman to threaten him and hang up. Anoma Mendis had first received a text message claiming she had won a similar competition which was later followed by a call claiming the same. Like Karasnagoda, Mendis too had been approached on several occasions by a similar fraudster.

“I wanted to verify before I acted on it and had a suspicion that it was a scam,” she said, adding that she had later called the number using a different phone. “The person on the other end spoke extremely rudely repeatedly questioning as to who I was, which made me realize this cannot be a call from my mobile service provider,” she said.

However, according to the public, due to irregular warnings by mobile service providers regarding such scams and lack of action by providers hosting such competitions, even when complaints are lodged about conmen, confusion continues to reign among people, that many choose to ignore legitimate messages regarding winnings sent by service providers.

According to Karasnagoda his father had recently won a competition and was sent text messages by the mobile service provider which he chose to ignore due to the ongoing scams. “However, later he received a call from the call centre asking him to visit the head office to claim the prize,” Karasnagoda said, adding that it was then that they realized it was not a scam.

Despite attempts by both to complain to their respective service providers Mendis and Karasnagoda says it was to no avail and was instead told to lodge a complaint with the Police. Mendis, however, feels mobile service providers hosting such competitions should take more steps to warn their clients and inform winners in a more methodical manner. She also questioned as to why they cannot take legal steps against those using their company’s SIM cards to commit such frauds using the company name. Police media spokesperson, DIG Priyantha Jayakody said logical thinking by the public is key to avoid falling victim to such scams.

“These people are smart and can be very convincing,” he said, pointing out that people should not get caught up in the moment, but instead think logically as to if this message or call is genuinely from one’s service provider.

“The con artist targets 1,000 people but if they can just convince 10, they have reached their target,” he said adding that it is a sad situation when people lose hard earned money to such fraudsters due to greed. Therefore, the spokesperson urged people to be vigilant and not share personal information with strangers or on social media.

“Today people share everything on social media and the internet leaving them vulnerable to such scams,” he pointed out, adding that information such as bank account and credit card details should never be handed over to a stranger. According to Jayakody, in recently reported mobile phone scams, fraudsters appear to be gathering information through various phone reload and top up centres as well as the internet. “It is best if one limits such information such a mobile numbers to a close circle,” he stressed. Despite an increasing number of such incidents, these scams continue to go unreported to the authorities as victims are reluctant to come forward due to either shame or embarrassment while other would be victims who were approached by scammers too let the incident slide unwilling to go through the hassle of filing a complaint with the Police.

Mendis and Karasnagoda both admitted that despite wanting to lodge a complaint they later decided against it.

“It is too much of a hassle and is time consuming,” Karasnagoda said while Mendis said despite wanting to, friends and family had discouraged her saying it would be to no avail. Many others too claimed they would have provided information if there was a more convenient way to do so.

Nevertheless, the Police stress they are ready to take immediate action on complaints received as done recently which led to the arrests of con artists. DIG Jayakody urges victims and others with any information to come to the Police.

“We request victims of scams to come to the Police and lodge a complaint,” he said, adding that this can prevent from others being victimized by these white collar criminals.

“It is a service to others if victims and others can help with information to nab these scammers, thus preventing the loss of their fortune,” he stressed. 

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