Friday, 17 June 2011


My dictionary says that a liar is someone who tells an intentionally false statement. It’s not a lie if you’re mistaken, ignorant or confused. It’s a lie when you know for sure that what you’re saying is false. You need to understand someone’s motives to tell whether they’re lying.

With scammers of course it’s simple. It’s fairly simple to tell when you’re dealing with a scam, the clues, once you know them, are easy to spot.

Start with their identity. In normal circumstances real people don’t try and hide their identity. They obviously don’t disclose vast quantities of personal information but their name shouldn’t be a secret. Of course you might ask why my identity isn’t disclosed in this article? It’s true, my name doesn’t appear anywhere on this page but it only takes a moment of internet detective work to find out who I am. It’s not actually a secret.

Here’s a tip about scammer’s names that might prove helpful. Many, many times we’ve seen scam emails and frequently they claim to be in the UK for reasons you’ll read in a moment. The clue that something’s not right is that they’ll put “Mr” or Mrs” in the name they use. They’ll sign it with something like “Mr John Smith” or “Mrs Mary Jones”. I grew up in the UK so I think I’m qualified to say that Brits NEVER do that. Brits never use “Mr” or “Mrs” that way so you know when you see it that the author isn’t actually British.

Scammers use false names of course but they also use temporary, disposable phone numbers and email addresses. They always use cellphones, never land lines, and you’ll find that they often use UK numbers beginning with “070”. That’s because these numbers can be redirected to almost anywhere in the world. You dial what seems to be a number in the UK but in fact you end up speaking to someone in downtown Lagos. Oh and guess who pays for that call AND the redirection? You, the victim, do.

It’s the same thing with the email addresses they use. They’ll all be of the free variety from providers like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail or some of the smaller rivals. Of course there’s nothing wrong with free email addresses, they’re wonderful. I have several of them, most of them for winding up scammers but also a personal one for those occasions when I can’t get to my business email address. But scammers always use them because without enormous effort by law enforcement they’re virtually impossible to trace back to a single person.

Last week several readers sent us an email scam claiming to be from a company called Pinda Travel that offered the recipient a placement as a volunteer in various industries in far-flung, exotic places. Their email opened by saying that:
“we pay everything for you to go abroad because volunteering is free. Visa 100% free. Ticket 100% free. Accommodation 100% free”
There’s the other clue of course. Something for nothing. What organisation can you think of that does all this for you for free? That’s right. None.

Of course there WAS a fee to pay, a mere R250 “acceptance fee” that you had to send. However, this scammer wasn’t one of the smarter ones. In fact he was a particularly stupid specimen who actually gave the details of a South African bank account into which you were to pay this fee. Needless to say I forwarded it to the bank in question here in Botswana and they sent it over immediately to their South African cousins and the account was suspended in a flash.

I got in touch with the scammer using the SA cell number he’d given, just to see if he’d react to a bit of taunting. He wasn’t happy when I suggested that his scam had been exposed and he was perhaps understandably angry as you can see from the messages I received.

Of course he might also have been angry because I mentioned that I’d told the bank about his scam and that he wouldn’t be able to use his account any more. That’s probably why he threatened to have me killed. Or perhaps just because he’s a nasty person?

Obviously this guy is a liar through and through, there’s no doubt about that. But what about the gentler lies we’re told? Not ones that are designed to steal our money but just perhaps to give someone a quiet life?

What about the person I know who came to Botswana with her husband and was told by the bank that it was “illegal” for a foreigner without a work permit to have a bank account. What about more recently when another customer of a bank contacted us saying that in order to renew her insurance with the bank she had to supply AGAIN all the original documents she had originally given them. No, this wasn’t a new insurance policy, it was just a renewal of the existing one. No, the bank hadn’t lost the copies of the documents they took the first time. The reason? “It’s the law”.

Well it’s not the law, no it’s not. It’s something the bank official just made up on the spot. Or let’s be charitable, let’s assume that the bank had a new policy that required the customer to jump through additional hoops so she could give them more of her money. Either way the law had nothing to do with it. If the bank official had stopped to think for just a moment she would have known that, don’t you think? I’m sure that the she would have realised that continuing with the story about it being a legal requirement would have been an intentional falsehood. A lie in fact.

This week’s stars
  • Portia at Capital Securities reception for being very helpful.
  • Dimakatso Duha at University of Botswana Transcripts office for providing exceptional and thorough service.
  • The Botswana Couriers team in Maun staff for special assistance.

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