While on a shopping trip to my local grocer on Saturday, I didn’t think twice to walk through the many side shops, cellphone and purse in hand, blissfully unaware of any danger, or lurking predators.
As I entered a popular clothing store, a woman who I would place in her early 50’s approached me, seemingly frantic, but not frantic enough to be convincing.
“Hello love can I please use your cellphone? (Laughs, trying to relate to me), you know, my son was supposed to fetch me and now he isn’t here yet and I just want to phone him because I don’t have airtime”.
I stood there, brain frozen considering whether to trust my common sense or the older ‘Aunty’ asking for a favour so small.
But, before I handed over my cellphone, my intuition won, and I merely replied with ‘sorry Aunty, I don’t have airtime”.
However, she remained determined:
“Now buy you airtime then I use your phone?”
At that moment, the absurdity and sheer gall of the request sent sirens off in my head.
I politely declined and made my way out of the shop. I forgot about the incident until a post on the Facebook group “All those who grew up in Mitchell’s Plain” from a woman who had had a similar experience raised my suspicions.
The Facebook poster told a story about her neighbour, an older woman, who was approached by a man, who alleged to work with her son. He said that their truck was stuck without petrol and her son was waiting in the vehicle, and had sent him to make a call. The man had arrived in BMW.
He asked if he could use her cellphone, and when she didn’t have any airtime, the old woman approached the poster, asking if they could use hers.
The poster, who I assume experienced the same premonition-like angst as I did, argued with the old lady about bringing a stranger into her home. The mysterious man then got into his BMW and fled.
Three key elements are important in this story.
1. This man did not show any identification.
2. He did not mention the company name, or the son’s name.
3. Why had he not driven to the company himself.
But then again, how did he know she had a son?
How much planning and research do criminals put into these scams?
How much information do they need on the victim? And how is this information acquired?
This is a very scary train of thought.
After some quick research, a number of variations of the “Phone scam” emerge, which date back to around 2006.
Here, TV show ‘The Real Hustle’, demonstrates a more intricate scam. The video shows how easy it is to rip off unsuspecting civilians.
Scambusters.org has listed the 5 most popular cellphone scams for people to be aware of.
1. Subscriber fraud: This is the cellular version of identity theft. The perpetrator steals your personal details and opens an account in your name. At the end of the month, however, the bill gets sent to you, and many times it is hard to prove that you have been scammed.
2. Stolen or lost phones: Thieves target people with no sim code or security lock and steal the phone, sim included, to make unauthorised calls. The best action is to block or install a tracker.
3. Cloning: Crooks use scanners to read your cell phone identity, including the number and its unique serial number.
Then they program another phone with the same details and make calls at your expense.
4. Eavesdropping: Cellphone scammers may find it more difficult to scan for your phone ID, however they can listen in on your calls and download your phone usage records and even track your phone to know where you are or where you have been at a particular time.
Legal software can be secretly installed on someone else’s cell phone, making it easy for anyone to dial in and snoop.
Crooks can listen to your phone calls, download copies of text messages and numbers dialled, or even just silently activate the phone and use its microphone to monitor any nearby sounds or conversations.
People who use Bluetooth short-range radio to connect a hands-free headset to their cell phone can be targeted by nearby scammers using Bluetooth to eavesdrop.
Bluetooth users should un-select the “discoverable” option on their devices.
5. Ringtone cellphone scams: Apart from driving nearby people crazy with their awful sounds, users of downloaded ringtones could be exposing themselves to a couple of potentially costly cell phone scams.
Some tones — usually free or those exchanged via peer-to-peer software — have been hacked by scammers and can install a virus that either damages the phone or steals confidential information.
Second, you may get a text message inviting you to download a ringtone by returning another message or calling a 1-800 number. But when you do this, you may incur a hefty charge and/or unwittingly sign up for a monthly charge for services you don’t want.
Essentially, we carry all our personal information on pour phones. These tiny devices have history stored within them that can allow access to our homes, our offices and our bank accounts.
As a result, guarding your phone has become much more of a priority.
All a criminal has to do is get hold of your cellphone and they can literally imitate your entire online persona.