COVID-19 Increases Vulnerability, Skyrocketing Scam

Never have we been so attractive as targets for fraudsters and scammers as we are right now. –Brian X. Chen, New York Times

From micro to small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and to multinational entities, COVID-19 has had its bite on virtually all sectors of the global economy.

Experts say the devastating economic impact of the pandemic is propelling Millennials and a fraction of Gen Xers towards astounding creativity. While many are looking within for constructive solutions to the stinging economic scarcity, many are choosing the fast way out.

Nigeria has seen a tremendous rise in systematized scam in the past weeks— from too-good-to-be-true email/text message offers to scam calls to fake pandemic support initiative websites to double-your-money schemes.

A lot of Nigerians have become victims of circumstances; ripped off the little they have left in the face of a collapsing economy, Mr Olugbenga Odunayo, a peace and conflict researcher at University of Ilorin, told HumAngle.

“Within one week, in May, Fraud Watch International reported over 18 million monitored fraud attempts of phishing and malware attacks using COVID-19 lures.

“It is true that scammers mostly feast off victims’ greed. But truer is the fact that many recent cases are rather stimulated by citizen’s frustration-induced vulnerability and not necessarily desperation as believed.

“More so, there would be lesser cases were the government generous enough to afford its people genuine palliative incentives in a time like this,“ Odunayo clarified.

Ololade Edith, an Ilorin resident, recounted her experience.

“Last Friday, I got an interview call from one Mr Michael who urgently recruited for a Customer Service role for Zenith Bank. He asked a few questions to which I responded seriously. Returning to me with a N55,000 starting salary offer, he informed that a package containing a laptop computer, phone, staff ID and process manual would be sent to me by Sunday so I can start homeworking from Monday.

“I was unsuspecting until he called on Saturday requesting for N5,000 to have the package delivered to me. Meanwhile, my neighbor, Tofunmi, had been fleeced of N20,000 through this trick days ago.

“Who would have thought my CV could get to fraudsters from popular job sites to which I had been applying?” Ololade summed.

Paraphrasing Sam Espinosa of Next Caller, dealing with the pressure of unemployment does not afford anyone the luxury of critical thinking.

Pan Atlantic University’s Impact of COVID -19 survey revealed 93 per cent of the 1,674 MSMEs surveyed confirmed a tremendous revenue decline. While 55 per cent contemplated laying off employees, retrenchments, non-payment [and in many cases] part-payment of salaries are not far-fetched.

With people losing their job amidst uncertainty, even responsible business owners can no longer hold things together. According to WHO/Europe, the psychological effects of the pandemic crisscross anxiety, depression and hunger culminating in susceptibility. Evidently, the man-must-survive notion, is what continues to stimulate citizens towards get-rich quick schemes amongst other money-making means.

Shola, a Lagos artisan, confirmed losing N8,000 while trying out a flip-cash scheme he found on Facebook.

A female Lagosian who pleaded anonymity confirmed being swindled of N100,000 in a double-your-money within 24 hours deal. Sharing further, she said, “I saw testimonials before sending my money, all for the phone number to become unreachable the next day.”

Kaosarat, an Abeokuta baker, said: “No one is ordering cake at the moment. And with increased expenses, the choice of getting 25 per cent return on my money after one week from the Money Multiply Magic is a yes.”

When asked, Kaosarat revealed that the scheme was run by known persons who used their money to trade on forex and there were countless similar schemes around.

“Even my friend just introduced me to another in which you register with N2,000 and earn N4,500 every five days. Although that one just crashed,” she said.

Research shows that scam rate increases during crisis.

Recall a pool of synonymous schemes pervaded the social space between 2015 and 2017. With scores of emerging Ponzi schemes, one is perturbed by how really hard the times are for citizens who resort to helping themselves through questionable means.

The main worry would be about the effect of these activities on human life and security. And the big question remains, “are we not on a grand spree towards the reemergence of some MMM which once swept off the fortunes of millions of Nigerians?”

As cited in Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ report on the emotional impacts of fraud, the detrimental effects of scam pose significant threat to human life and security.

“Scams are a great number of people, causing severe psychological distress to victims and can even lead to suicide,” postulates Cormac Harley in his 2012 research article, Why Nigerian Scammers say they are from Nigeria.

Evidently, from the foregoing, there is a looming insecurity, and threat to future peace. This calls for action from appropriate government authorities.

Regulation of job-sites needs to be taken seriously, especially for data protection reasons. Nigerian Communication Commission needs to do more with communication tracking as a way of protecting users, at least to a point.

Banks must do even more to beef up security in the face of rising bank-related scam cases. Organisations and individuals alike, must begin to raise their voice on orientating citizens on the inherent risk in the diverse magic money schemes being proliferated as we do on other matters.

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