ON FRIDAY, members of the Fraud Squad took centre stage to warn citizens of new and anticipated fraud schemes. Some scams were described by acting Inspector Cornelius Samuel as relationship or romance scams, which prey on lonely people. While these frauds are not prevalent in TT, Samuel noted a recent case which led to police arresting a 48-year-old Nigerian, Charleson Obasoanya, who is accused of defrauding an 82-year-old woman of more than $128,000 by claiming to be a long lost relative in a long-term scam between July 2019 and May 2020.
As isolation measures related to covid19 continue, such schemes are likely to find more inventive iterations. ASP Curtis Julien also demonstrated a new development in credit card skimming, done using sophisticated fake point-of-sale machines that are believed to be growing in popularity as an alternative to ATM fraud. Bankers have been working to shut down ATM skimming techniques over the past two years.
These are just the most obvious adaptations of existing schemes, and the fractured nature of business under covid19 offers new opportunities for the unscrupulous to exploit business systems and vulnerable people who are scattered and strained by these unusual circumstances. The government and NGOs have already instituted systems that track the provenance of the people who collect grants and food hampers.
The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services recently issued a formal warning to the public of the penalties pending under law for using false statements to access support resources. Internationally, a new range of coronavirus-vectored scams are appearing on the internet, ranging from quizzes on social media that gather personal information using surveys as part of data-harvesting schemes designed to build hackable profiles.
Phone call scams are targeting the elderly, offering shopping and support services, hoping to gather bank card details. A rash of messages, e-mails and texts are using fears about covid19 as a trigger to invite the unsuspecting to click on links or provide information or cash for fraudulent research, support and charitable schemes. The surge in these online scams has attracted the attention of Google’s teams, who are blocking up to 18 million malware and phishing e-mails related to covid19 from reaching it each day.
The growth of fraud preying on covid19 fears demands continuing attention from citizens and the authorities. Thieves and fraudsters will continue to do their reprehensible work and the restrictions and anxieties that attend current restrictions and isolation are an opportunity for exploitation, not compassion for these scamps.
The difficulties and complexities of day-to-day life under covid19 lead to distractions and anxieties which fraudsters are keen to exploit. These warnings from the TTPS are welcome and timely.