I should start by saying that I really like Facebook and I think it offers us the opportunity to change they way we communicate and, more importantly, to improve it. Yes, to improve it.
However, like all developments there is a downside. If you’ve never seen it, watch Inherit The Wind, a film from 1960 loosely based on the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925 when a biology teacher in Tennessee was prosecuted for teaching his students about human evolution. In the film, the defending attorney says, when talking about progress:
“You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."
I certainly saw the downside of Facebook recently when a number of people posted graphic pictures of the appalling tragedy of the school kids from Matsha College. We’ve all seen the pictures of the truck that carried the students but these pictures went much, much further. They were the sort of thing no right-minded parent would want to see, certainly not the bereaved parents.
Luckily many of these pictures were rapidly removed when the people who posted them realised they had gone too far.
Facebook has also emerged as the primary channel for scams these days. That’s not a reason for abandoning or restricting Facebook any more than we should discard books, the telephone and television. They can also be misused but we’ve learned how to use them properly and safely.
Some months ago I received a message from Facebook. She said:
“I have been communicating with someone named Luca Anders and he became my Facebook boyfriend. He said he is working in the UK and his contract is ending this month end. He took all his benefits from the company and he wants to come and settle with me in Botswana. He called me that he is coming with a flight which landed at Cape Town at 0930 this morning. Those that claim that they are at the airport called me asking if he is coming to me and I confirmed. Now they say he is carrying a lot of cash.Yes, it was a scam but it was a very smart one. The story about the guy arriving at Cape Town that very morning was very clever. It added a real sense of urgency to the pressure she was under. The thought that her lover was in custody and might be kicked out of South Africa made her desperate.
They say he should pay R10,000 for money laundering and now he says I should deposit the money and he’ll pay me back when he comes because they are now going to send him back and without that cash. Please check for me if its the truth. He says I should not tell many people coz he is carrying lots of money and he is fearing for his life. I’m in a fix. To deposit or not to or is this a scam?”
Of course all the scammers pretending to be “Luca” wanted is the R10,000 and if she’d paid them they just would have asked for more and more money until either she finally realized it was a scam or she ran out of money.
Just a few days later I got another message.
“Help me out. There is this guy we had been talking since April. He stays in the UK. Recently he wanted to send me some goods which includes 2 phones, iPhone 6 and S4, a Canon camera, a laptop, clothes shoes and handbags, make ups, perfume, jewellery and cash. The goods were sent last Saturday and they were to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I received a call from a guy by the name of Peter Lucas from the Cape town airport saying the package has arrived in Cape Town Airport. So I need to pay $300 for tax clearance for the goods to be delivered. They are saying its a direct delivery. What scares me mostly is the money that he says he has put inside the package $5000.”Of course there was no guy, no shipment, no laptop and iPhone, no jewelry and make-up and certainly no cash. The only genuine thing about this story was the money they wanted her to pay to get the mythical shipment of goodies.
With this particular victim there was bad news as well as some good. I asked her if she’d already sent them any money. She said:
“Yes I did sent them the $300 they needed but when I was expecting the package the same day I deposited the money. The guy said the package was scanned and cash was found inside so it had been charged with money laundering so he suggested to talk to one officer he knows who might help. He later called and said the officer needs a bribe of $300 again so he can pass goods. Thats when I began to be suspicious.”Luckily she only lost around P3,000 and she quickly became suspicious and sought our advice. P3,000 is a lot of money but it’s not going to ruin her life. Others haven’t been so fortunate and have paid scammers money huge amounts before realizing the truth.
The lesson is simple. Be careful with Facebook. Embrace all the benefits is has to offer you and your loved-ones but remember that not everything you see there is either right or good.