How Good Information Goes Bad

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The Internet is fast becoming a sort of gossip chamber where the real merges with the fantasy, leaving ordinary people overwhelmed. I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Take an email my wife forwarded me this morning. It’s from a newsgroup comprising Indonesian expat mothers in Singapore (talk about niches!). The sender had forwarded an email they received from someone who claimed to have had the scam they describe befall them in Singapore.

The scam itself is ingenious: someone phones a resident, saying they’ve got a package to deliver and confirming someone will be home. The package is a beautiful basket of flowers and wine. No card (the delivery guy says it’s coming later.) Recipient happy, but told will have to pay $3.50 as proof the delivery guy left the alcohol-containing package to an adult. Fair enough.

The recipient goes to get cash. No, says the guy, it has to be by EFTPOS—a bank card—because he’s not allowed to handle cash. Fair enough.

He swipes the card on  his machine, recipient enters PIN, and off delivery guy goes.

Within a few days, several thousand dollars disappears from the recipient’s account, via a duplicated card and the stolen PIN number.

Now this is a good, classy and brazen scam. And it’s true. It did happen—in Sydney, Australia, in October (and possibly November) 2008. The guy involved was arrested on November 21.

But it didn’t, as far as we know, happen in Singapore. Or anywhere else.

But that hasn’t stopped the email from spreading virally. In Malaysia, Canada, and elsewhere.

Myth-busting sites like Snopes and Hoax Slayer have done a good job of trying to separate fact and fiction. The problem is that as these legitimate stories spread, they serve to confuse and alarm rather than educate the public. As Hoax Slayer puts it:

While they may be perfectly valid when first launched, a problem with such warning emails is that they may continue to circulate for years and eventually become outdated and redundant. And, as noted, false or misleading information may be added to the messages as they circulate and such additions can significantly erode their use as warnings. Before forwarding such warning messages, it is always wise to check that the information they contain is accurate and up-to-date.

I quite agree. It’s good that people are wary, but not based on stories that are no longer true.

Checklist to avoid such scams:

  • Ask to see credentials of any delivery guy, whether or not he’s giving you free stuff.
  • If you’re wary, don’t accept the delivery. Even if it’s free stuff.
  • You should not be asked to pay money by someone appearing at your door unless you’re expecting the package. Sadly this is not properly adhered to, even by supposedly reputable couriers. In Indonesia I would find the couriers demanding duty payments that were not sufficiently documented.
  • Don’t let anyone swipe your bank card unless you’ve established who they are.
  • If in doubt, demand a name card and take a photo of the person with your cellphone. Then close the door.

Photo credit: North Shore Times.

15. December 2008 by jeremy
Categories: Scams | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. Oh! sorry to hear that! so is that the new modus operandi of the scammers?? How bad it is. Have you tried to report this? We’ve be better to be careful next time. Thanks that I read this post, this serves as a lesson to everybody.

    -urieqo-