Online scams  

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Scammers abound on social media. They are fearless, remorseless and reckless. In many cases, they assume another person’s identity simply by picking photos off the victim’s social media accounts, inputting personal information, and creating a duplicate dummy account. The pandemic has made many people more desperate, as jobs became harder to come by, and fooling people is a way to get easy money without breaking a sweat.

Lately, more local scammers have turned to assuming famous athletes’ identities and baiting fans or acquaintances into paying for non-existent memorabilia or autographs. So far, they’ve seemingly gotten away with it. In the past year and a half, this writer has been approached by three such scammers. The first pretended to be 2012 PBA draft pick Simon Atkins. The second was a Terrence Romeo doppelgänger, and the third pretended to be a victim of another basketball scammer.

How do they operate? Most often, they send a friend request on Facebook. Once you’ve accepted, they send a greeting via Messenger, usually in the vernacular. Within a few days, they will make one of two requests. Either they will ask for financial assistance for a sick child, or will offer exclusive autographed memorabilia like game-worn shoes or jerseys in exchange for cash. Their standard procedure is to ask for money up front. And once you’ve sent them your money, they cease communicating with you. When pressed, they merely deactivate or delete the bogus social media account, and pitch their virtual tent somewhere else.

In the third instance, the person sent this writer a direct message, and complained of having sent P7,000 to someone pretending to be a PBA player (the account in a different person’s name). When I turned down requests to put them in touch with the actual player in question, they blocked me. Obviously, they were plotting to scam the actual player, a very bold move.

How do you combat this kind of fraud? First, contact people who actually know the player in question to verify the account. Some athletes and coaches maintain multiple social media accounts. Secondly, ask them questions only the actual player would know. Third, check their communication pattern. Are they refined or unrefined when they talk? This was how I caught the first impostor.  Also, some delivery services accept payment for purchased items only upon delivery. This would eliminate much of the risk if you do transact with them. If you intend to pursue legal action, report them to the NBI or PNP Anti-Cybercrime groups.

It would not be advisable to insist on meeting in person. You don’t know what they actually look like, but they’ve studied you, so you may be putting yourself in danger. Besides, they will most likely not show up, anyway. The trouble is that banks will not give details of their clients’ personal accounts, and electronic cash transactions are similarly hard to track down.

Online anonymity has made these thieves feel invulnerable. It’s very difficult to physically connect a free social media account with an actual person committing a crime. The best we can do is make it difficult for them by not cooperating and by asking the right questions.


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