Scammed - Waiting in pain and in vain; The new way online scammers are tricking unsuspecting customers

Scammed - Waiting in pain and in vain; The new way online scammers are tricking unsuspecting customers

It was a joyous occasion for a family of five as they awaited their order from a favourite pizza restaurant in Accra to celebrate the youngest child's birthday. 

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The children eagerly looked forward to the sumptuous pizza in celebration of their youngest sibling.

The hours ticked by and their excitement turned into frustration and disappointment as their order failed to arrive.

The parents tried calling the phone number of the restaurant, which they found on the Internet listing of Pizza restaurants in Accra, but it was either busy or went unanswered.

With no other option left, they decided to make their way to the restaurant to find out what had gone wrong.

Upon arriving, they were met with a chaotic scene of other customers complaining about undelivered orders, with some of them demanding refunds.

At the enquiry counter, a staff apologised to the family, explaining that the restaurant had fallen victim to a fraudulent online listing that had been created by scammers, swindlers.

The scammers have created a fake listing and on social media where they pose as representatives of the restaurant or one of its officials, offering discounted prices and cheaper delivery rates.

The unsuspecting customers, including the family of five, had fallen prey to the scam, as their order never went to the restaurant.

Emerging threat

This is the new way scammers are tricking unsuspecting customers, using the digital space to dupe them of their hard earned incomes under bizarre and shocking circumstances.

A common method is setting up fake accounts and phone numbers of various businesses online to deceive people, using sophisticated techniques that make their scams look legitimate.

A Graphic Online team that worked for weeks around the clock to understand how the scammers operated, found some shocking details.

Across the Internet, scammers post deceptive adverts with phone numbers that pop up when a customer search for legitimate businesses. 

On popular social media platforms, they set up fake accounts to advertise products and services they do not have or offer.

They use the names, logos and other details of  legitimate businesses to create an account that looks authentic.

 They then post fake offers, discounts, and promotions to attract customers.

Agony of victims

These crude methods are increasingly becoming a popular means for scammers to ply their deceptive enterprises and have resulted in many innocent people falling for their crooked schemes.

Some of the victims, who spoke in separate interviews with the Daily Graphic, said running through the scam were demands on customers (victims) to make payments before delivering the products they had ordered for.

The products are mainly fast foods such as pizza to household items and electronic gadgets, among others. 

Mine was pizza, after making the payment to the supposed vendor, the number went dead and after several unsuccessful attempts, I gave up on the pizza,” May Affum said in an interview. 

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here are also several testimonies of victims of this scam on social media.

Drain on businesses

The prevalence of the fraudulent pages and listings on the Internet is negatively affecting businesses that operate online.

It is eroding customers' trust in online shopping, leading to a decline in sales and revenue. 

Already, some customers, who fell victims to the scams, are leaving negative reviews on the original pages of some businesses that have been mimicked by scammers, while some share their experiences on social media, further damaging the business's reputation.

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Alarmingly, businesses are incurring extra operational cost to address this growing threat, investing more resources in creating awareness campaigns and implementing measures to prevent these frauds, which can be costly.

This is creating a challenging environment for businesses operating online in the country, especially restaurants. 

The Head of Digital Marketing of Cheezy Pizza, Ludvic Krakue, told the Daily Graphic that between June and July this year, the company was deleting and reporting about 17 of such fake listings on one search engine alone each day.

He said there had been many reported cases where customers had been tricked into paying for products to a mobile money number only to have the fraudsters switched off their phone and disappeared.

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The Front Desk Manager of Eddy’s Pizza, Dorcas Larbi Tetteh, said within the last few months, she had received many complaints from customers that their orders for pizza from the restaurant did not arrive although they had paid for them.

“Once they say they had paid for them, I know they had been scammed because we only do payment on delivery,” she said. 

We are working on this

At Pizza Hut, a representative, who did not want to be named, said two individuals had been employed by the company to delete and report fake advertisements and listings that imitated Pizza Hut.

“You could be deleting 100s of these pages every week and yet they keep coming up.

We may be spending money to fight this scam but what is happening that concerns me most is the disappointment on the faces of customers that get duped; it’s of serious concern to me as sometimes, these meals are ordered for children,” the source said. 

The Marketing Manager, KFC Ghana, Christopher Addo-Sarkodie, told the Daily Graphic that his outfit had engaged the services of a third party cybersecurity company to monitor the web and delete fake accounts and listings of KFC on a daily basis.

He said customers had made numerous complaints online and through phone calls to KFC stores, while a significant number of people had walked into the stores to make similar complaints.

To combat this issue, Mr Krakue said the company had created awareness campaigns on social media, advising customers to only use cash on delivery or walk-in options, if they were in doubt because scammers could create verified listings on Google as well, making it difficult for customers to distinguish between real and fake pages.

He also encouraged customers to report fake numbers and listings to the police and Google.

With the festive season approaching, Mr Krakue said he was expecting the number of fraudulent cases to increase and urged customers to remain vigilant when shopping online.

Increase

An officer of the Cyber Security Authority, Stephen Cudjoe Seshie, told the Daily Graphic that the authority was aware of the emerging scam and their perpetrators.

He said in September last year, the authority issued a warning to alert the public of the emergence of the online scams to help protect them from falling prey.

However, Mr Seshie said reports of the scam had since increased, meaning more people were falling victim.

On efforts to protect the public from the scammers, he said the authority was still planning a fitting response in collaboration with the Ghana Police Service, which included establishing a trend and identifying the modus operandi of the scamming syndicate.

“We are using a two-way approach, the first being a short term solution, which is to educate the public to escape such scams, while we work on the long term solution of identifying the scammers and getting them arrested.”

He said without building a trend before going after them, “we will be running all over the place,” Mr Seshie explained. 

Sophistication

In a more sophisticated scheme, Mr Seshie said scammers set up fake phone numbers using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services.

Such services allow the scammers to make calls using a fake number that appears to be from a legitimate business.

When customers call back on the number, they are greeted by a professional-sounding automated message that directs them to press a button to speak with a customer service representative.

Once the customer connects with the scammer, they are asked for their personal information, such as their credit card details, social security number, or other sensitive information.

The scammers then use the information to commit identity theft or make unauthorised purchases.

Testing scam 

To test the scam theories, the Daily Graphic placed calls to some of the fake numbers that were randomly sourced from search engines, and found that the scammers sounded professional and convincing, as if they were real representatives of the businesses they impersonated.

The calls made to the fake listed branches of the pizza restaurants opened a new can of worms, which indicated how these scammers employed deceptive ways to trick customers desperately in need of a quick bite.

However, he said when they spoke with some of the supposed businesses, they fumbled in their attempts to respond to queries.

They were unable to provide concrete information about the business they claimed to represent.

For instance, an advertisement of Pizzaman, a fast food chain, had a suspicious number which the team called to place an order for a large size of pizza.

Although the assumed representative on the phone claimed to be at the Weija branch of Pizzaman, the advertisement online said the advertised number was for the Ablekuma branch of Pizzaman.

On suspicion that the team might have landed one of the scammers, few questions were put to the assumed representative, all of which he could not answer effectively.

Not only did he give wrong prices for all the pizza sizes, he also did not know the brand names of the various pizza flavours sold by Pizzaman.

The biggest red flag was when the suspected scammer demanded that payment should be made to him via a short code provided by one of the Fintech companies in the country.

Some of the victims the Daily Graphic interacted with attested to the fact that this was the usual procedure employed by the scammers. 

No effort

Another victim of the scam, Duke Mensah, said the impact of the scams could be devastating for customers who fell victim.

“We don’t only lose money but also risk having our identity stolen, which can lead to long-term financial and legal problems, that is why some people, including myself, think that the companies may be on it, because over the past weeks, they have done nothing about it,” Mr Mensah said.

You have techs to work on the pages and how many days would it take them to work on these pages even if they were hacked,” Mr Mensah said. 

Vigilance

A data protection analyst, Terry Davidson, in an interview, pointed out that the scammers were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods of deception, so customers needed to be vigilant and cautious when dealing with offers that seemed too good to be true.

“It is important to verify the authenticity of the account or phone number before sharing any personal information.

Businesses also need to take steps to protect their brand and reputation from being tarnished by these scams,” he said.

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