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Clicked into a new social group

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GREY MUTTER: For years I have been warning, scolding, berating and even writing about how easy it is to be scammed, and then it happened to me, writes Lance Fredericks.

Picture: Marcin Paśnicki from Pixabay

THE MEAL that we all have to choke down sooner or later is a large slice of humble pie, washed down with a tepid cupful of humili-tea.

Yes, the important, life-changing lessons life teaches us seldom come in a neat package like a TED Talks lecture or YouTube instructional video; far too often it comes in the form of a kick in the seat of the pants. Today I have to confess that I sit here having been well fed, having drunk well, and with a tingling sensation in the general area of my backside after falling victim to one of the easiest scams out there.

For years I have been warning, scolding, berating and even writing about how easy it is to be scammed. Even as early as September 23, 2021, I wrote a column warning readers of the dangers of being duped by scammers

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So here I have been calling the bank’s fraud line, visiting the branch in my city, visiting my cellular service providers, and each time getting a lecture on how ill-advised, if not downright silly, it is to click on a link in an unsolicited SMS.

“No sir, that is one thing you should never do. Don’t ever click a link. The bank sends notifications almost every day warning our clients not to do things like this. Also, never enter your personal information; the bank will NEVER ask you to do that …” I am being told, over and over again.

Everyone is really nice, really sweet about it, but no matter how much I protest and assure them that I am not someone who would normally do something like this, the fact is, here I am, officially and forevermore someone who actually did something like this.

The fact that I was exhausted and jet-lagged after a bumpy, turbulent 13-hour flight from the Far East – factors that compromised my better judgement – are of little consequence. What matters is that I opened myself up to being scammed and I fell for it.

If you’re wondering what elaborate misdirection was utilised to fool someone whose radar is always up, allow me to enlighten you. Here, verbatim, is the message I received: “FNB:-) You must update your FNB account to the new FICA Server. Please click on > (and they shared a link) and update before 11:00 to prevent account restrictions”.

Now had anyone I know fallen for this idiotic attempt at fraud, I would have laughed at them, or at the very least sniggered and rolled my eyes a bit … no, make that a lot!

And yet here I sit; and I have been in and out of banks and cellphone stores and speaking to online consultants for hours each day this week, attempting to undo what a simple click did.

Lesson learned, I will be more understanding, more gracious and more patient in future when people make this kind of blunder. After all, from now on and forevermore, after a single careless mistake, I am part of their clan.

Believe me, I needed to be knocked off my high stallion. Just a few weeks ago – before I became one of them – I was rolling on the floor laughing (no, not literally) at how gullible people can be.

I had shared a “historical” titbit that was actually completely and obviously stupid. The social media post went something along the lines of: “Most people have heard of Karl Marx, but few know of his sister, Onya, an Olympic runner. She was so revered that her name is still mentioned at the start of every race.” I then added: “Don’t bother checking or verifying, this is 100% true. Trust me!”

And some people actually did believe me.

Soon I was receiving messages about how eye-opening, interesting and unexpected that bit of information was. And I was stunned that people could be so gullible.

Looking back, however, I am wondering if maybe they were a bit distracted or a little tired. I say this because I know these people, and none of them are airheads. My silly dry humour just caught them off guard, I suspect.

Anyway, now that the plaster has been ripped off, and I stand here in the ranks of the scammed, duped and hoodwinked, and mulling over the counsel in 1 Corinthians 10:12 that says “the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall”, allow me – if you still value my opinion – to offer this simple nugget of advice.

Do not, ever click links on text messages, unless you have verified that the sender is trustworthy.

There’s much more that can be said, many more scams and flim-flams out there, too many to mention. So do yourself a favour and get yourself informed; in this instance knowledge is safety.

And by the way, remember that dishonest people are not only out there to steal your money. There are those who will say all the right things to secure votes, while they have no intention of fulfilling the promises they make. There are, heartbreakingly, ministers of religion who use their position of influence to dupe and mislead trusting people; people they are meant to serve.

In the end, I guess I am saying that increasingly these days we need to keep our radars up and running, making sure that we double-check and ask around before jumping into any commitment. Sadly, this is what it’s come down to.

However, scammers don’t always win the day. I once read a story of a woman who received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a hacker. The hacker said that he had gained access to her laptop’s camera and had used it to film her undressing and when she was in the nude.

The hacker then threatened to post the pictures online unless the victim paid him a handsome amount in Bitcoin.

The lady responded: “Dude I’m 64 years old, good luck in getting any money for those pictures but if you do, I want half of the profits!”

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