Five people suspected to be behind the use of text messages to swindle about 7,000 MTN subscribers are in the grip of the police.
The suspects, who are all Nigerians, are Chukwuka Okide, 25, a footballer, Chidebere Uka, alias Motion, 28, a businessman, and Ojiefo Jude, 25, Emmanuel Uka, alias Ogah, 39, and Chibuzor Andumanaka, 35, all traders.
They allegedly circulated text messages that falsely indicated that the receiver had emerged as a winner in a promotion being run by the network provider.
According to the police, in 2014 a total of 10,600 of MTN subscribers reported receiving such messages.
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Data at the telecommunication company also showed that from the beginning of this year, 1,400 of such cases had been recorded.
It is suspected that over 50 per cent of the recipients of the text messages fell for the scam.
Mode of operation
The suspects are believed to have sent text messages to MTN subscribers indicating that they had won some promotion and lured their victims to part with money through mobile money transfer.
To redeem their prizes, some of the victims were also asked to buy recharge cards and send the pin codes to the sender of the message as a prerequisite for processing their rewards.
In some cases, the police found out that some residents of Kasoa and the Budumburam Camp near Kasoa and its environs were told that their processing fees or the cost of the recharge cards would be refunded.
Briefing journalists, the Accra Regional Police Commander, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCOP) Mr Christian Tetteh Yohuno, said the telecommunications company reported to the police that its subscribers had been complaining of receiving messages indicating that they had won cash prices ranging between GH¢5,000 and GH¢45,000.
“Based on that, the suspects were all arrested through police intelligence work,” he said.
Police investigations, Mr Yohuno said, revealed that the suspects “send a congratulatory message to your phone informing you of an amount of money you have won. The text messages are often accompanied by a fake pin number which is part of an attempt to convince the receiver”.
Additionally, he explained, the receivers of the fake messages were also requested to call a phone number included in the text message to claim their prizes.
“The moment you call, the receiver, purporting to be working with the telecommunications network, asks you to confirm the pin number in the text message and also purchase and scratch a recharge card and send the pin number to them to begin the processing of your prize. You are also promised a refund of the credit when the processing is over,” he said.
To the surprise of most of the victims, he said, “after sending the scratch card digits, they are told to visit the nearest customer office for their prizes. But they later find out they have been defrauded”.
The police retrieved mobile phones and many SIM cards from the suspects on their arrest.
“A lot of people have been swindled under this type of falsehood and the public is cautioned to be mindful of such activities. The police are, therefore, advising the public to be wary of such criminals and avoid falling for their dirty schemes. Once you suspect a spam message on your phone, delete it immediately and do not entertain them any further,” he added.
The Corporate Services Executive of MTN, Mrs Cynthia Lumor, said the company did not charge money or its equivalent in recharge cards before prizes were redeemed during promotions.
“If you have not participated in a promotion, do not fall for the scam,” she said, and urged subscribers who participated in promotions to authenticate their awards on MTN’s website or through publications in the media.