TUMBY BAY - I received an interesting email this morning. It came from Nigeria telling me I had won US$70 million in a lottery I had never entered.
It wasn’t so much that this was obviously a scam but that it came from Nigeria.
I haven’t had a scam email from the west African country in over two years. Once upon a time they were almost a daily event.
For a brief moment after the email arrived I contemplated replying to it and welcoming back the scammer.
Some of those Nigerian scammers have a tenuous grasp of English which can be most hilarious and decidedly entertaining.
Shortly after I deleted it, along with all the other scam emails in my inbox and trash file, the telephone rang from someone purporting to be from Telstra informing me that my internet service was about to be cut off.
I hung up on that call before the caller had time to tell me what to do to avoid the disconnection and where to send my bank account details.
I usually get up to a dozen scam emails every morning when I log in to my email account and one or two scam phone calls a week. Just lately they’ve been multiplying exponentially.
On top of that I get regular visits from my elderly neighbours worried about emails and telephone calls they have received.
Once or twice I’ve had to help them contact their banks to stop payments to scammers they were tricked by or to get refunds from the bank after they had allowed scammers to access their bank accounts.
What have become known as scammers have been around a long time, well before the internet arrived.
One of the scammers back then operated out of Malta of all places. They sold tickets by mail in what I presumed was a fake Maltese lottery.
This scam was complicated because there was, and still is, a legitimate Maltese lottery with very lucrative prizes. Telling the fake apart from the real was extremely difficult.
Another popular pre-internet scam was sending people letters informing them they had inherited money from a previously unknown and deceased relative. All you had to do was send the writer several hundred dollars to access the windfall.
I came across this one when several Aboriginal people I knew showed me letters they had received. The letters looked authentic but a check with the police confirmed that they were scams.
In Papua New Guinea during my time as a kiap the scammers were usually locals with sorcery-tinged get-rich-quick schemes or unscrupulous business people with Ponzi or pyramid schemes. These are still rife and now compete with the online stuff.
I’ve often wondered about the morality of people who prey on vulnerable individuals in this manner. But, then again, humans aren’t the most moral creatures on earth.
Some of the more pernicious scams occur when people try to exploit the ill fortune of others such as those with incurable illnesses and offer fake ‘cures’.
Anyone using the internet should brace themselves for a deluge of purported Covid-19 cures.
These fake medical or spiritual scams are fairly common in Papua New Guinea, especially coming from religious carpetbaggers posing as pastors.
One thing about thievery is that people like scammers prey on their own kind.
People in low socio-economic circumstances, especially if they are clustered in ghettoes and settlements, steal from each other. Rich people are much less discriminatory and steal from everyone, including the government.
Poor people often steal from each other simply because they are desperate. Crime rates in impoverished cities and suburbs are always high.
With the economic upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the high rates of unemployment we should expect crime rates to go up, including through internet scams.
This might explain why the Nigerian scammers are back at it again. Covid-19 is now biting hard in Africa.
The Nigerians have been happily defrauding rich European women with fake marriage proposals over the last few years but now seem to be back on the lotteries and inheritance scams.
A useful booklet about scams by the Australian government is available for download. It’s worth perusing if you are worried about some of the unsolicited emails you receive.
There’s also a notice from the Bank of Papua New Guinea about money scams. The link is: https://www.bankpng.gov.pg/announcement/ag-public-notice-money-schemes/