Home Opinion and Features When my pal ‘forgot’ our friend Dorothy

When my pal ‘forgot’ our friend Dorothy

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These days, a call from a loved-one may actually be from a scammer, thanks to the dishonest use of Artificial Intelligence.

Picture: Lisa Runnels from Pixabay

IT PAYS to stay in touch with your friends. However, be careful because sometimes it can pay the wrong people.

Last week, during the busiest day of the week, I had the strongest urge to contact a dear old friend – he’d slap me across my chops for calling him “old”, but the fact is we have known each other since last century.

Anyway, being unable to give him a phonecall, I fired off a quick text message: “Hey, hey Mr Buddy! How are you holding up on your side of this fragile rock?”

His response jarred me: “I am not fine”.

Now, having known this friend for close to 40 years, I know that “I am not fine” is not a response he would give. “I am not fine” is not on his radar.

Immediately I was suspicious, but I needed to confirm my suspicions.

“What’s happening,” I inquired.

The response, “I need your help”, made me suspicious my friend’s phone had been stolen. By the way, another of his phones had been stolen at his place of employment not too long ago.

An alarm bell of confirmation went off with the next message: “Please borrow me money I will return it on Saturday.” My suspicions were confirmed. I was speaking to someone dishonest. Now I was interested to see how far this would go.

“How much would you need,” I asked, realising that my real friend, the friend who I have known for decades, whose phone had been stolen, was keenly aware that money doesn’t grow on my back … and neither in my savings account for that matter.

The answer was decisive: “R2000”. I asked, “Can I give you a call?” The scammer replied, “My phone has a speaker and camera problem” … I rolled my eyes.

But by now, even with the newspaper deadline creeping ever closer, I was starting to have fun. I asked, “Can I call Dorothy’s phone?” (My actual friend doesn’t know anyone called Dorothy, and neither do I.)

“I am not at home,” came the clever reply.

By this time, my work had been piling up. But working at the paper hadn’t provided me with as much fun as conversing with a scammer and I didn’t want either to end. So I texted, “Cool. Just give me a minute. I need to check if I have funds … payday is still FAR!!”

He, or she, replied, “Ohk”.

My friend, being an English teacher, would never misspell OK! And then added: “Please transfer it using cardless withdrawal”.

I replied that I would, but that I would first have to get on the highway and travel home. My real friend knows that there’s not a highway in my dorpie, but like I said, I was toying with the scammer.

Eventually though, when the scammer demanded to know why it was taking so long for me to get home, and after I had called my friend’s daughter and found out that her Dad’s WhatsApp account had been hacked, I decided it was time to end the game. However, I decided not to take a swipe, but instead, if possible plant a seed.

I texted: “I find it heartbreaking that you hacked the phone of a respectable person in order to scam people. I do not know how desperate you are for the money, and I really hope that one day you will break out of the cycle of lying, cheating and stealing, and actually make a success of yourself.”

Then I added: “There is a God in heaven. He knows your heart … and He loves you incredibly. Nothing you did or can ever do can change God’s mind about you. I pray you find your way back to the pathway of goodness.”

I never heard from them again.

Now though this scam was relatively easy for me to spot, being that I know my friend, something hugely more sinister has been coming to the fore of late, largely due to the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The “Grandparent Scam” is being used as a tool to swindle unsuspecting, caring people.

It works this way; scammers call and impersonate a close relative supposed to be in a crisis situation, asking for immediate financial assistance.

Sometimes these callers can actually fake the caller ID to make an incoming call appear to be coming from a trusted source, as their name pops on the smartphone screen.

But there’s more, using AI cloning technology, scammers can “steal” a voice clip – apparently a few seconds is sufficient – and replicate a loved-one’s voice. Meaning that the scammer can send an authentic-sounding voice-note just using AI.

Let that sink in to those who find it convenient and ‘safe’ to send voice notes; voice-notes can be used to impersonate you for the sinister purpose of scamming your loved-ones. But remember, with this scam, a scammer could actually call and speak to you and sound exactly like your loved-one.

Oh, if you’re wondering, yes, the scams have proven to be pretty lucrative. One group of scammers in Canada reportedly managed to gain over $2 million before they were stopped by law enforcement.

So what should one look out for?

A common trait with these scams is the caller’s urgent need for money. This is a key red flag to watch out for, as the pressure to make a quick decision often causes victims to overlook suspicious details.

Therefore it pays to know what your loved-ones know and what they don’t. Like I used the name “Dorothy” to confirm that the scammer was not my friend, families should create safe words or spy-like responses to key phrases if the need to verify identities ever arises.

We cannot deal with all the angles and teach all the methods of protecting yourself, but perhaps potential victims can keep this uppermost in their minds – that means YOU, because we don’t know who these skelms are going to target next …

Always, always exercise caution when you are pressured to make quick decisions, especially those involving money or your personal, sensitive information. Take your time to verify the facts and directly contact family members to confirm their situation.

Then ponder the fact that dishonesty has been a feature of our species since practically forever. Proof of this is found in a manuscript written by an oracle by the name of Micah, probably around 700BC.

Micah wrote: “What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so.”

So be careful out there, money is scarce, but skelms are abundant!

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