Zimbabwe has recently seen a sharp increase in cyber-crimes such as debit card cloning, online pyramid schemes and identity theft. Unsuspecting citizens are being pounced on by cyber con artists, losing thousands of dollars in the process. At last, the government, working together with banks and mobile telecommunications companies, is putting together a front to fight this wave of cyber-crime.
The police are particularly concerned with the rise of scammers who take advantage of unsuspecting victims, digitally withdrawing their savings through card cloning. The police, through Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyati, have advised the public not to share banking details over the phone, or to anyone outside the bank, urging them to be extra vigilant when they use their swipe cards or when doing mobile money transactions.
Card cloning scammers manage to obtain details of card holders, then call the victim purporting to be from the bank to verify these, but it is a trick to get the PIN code. As soon as the get the number, money is drained from the account.
Banks have beefed up security, by introducing text message notifications after every transaction, backed up with regular account statements. Some banks are encouraging their customers to use mobile applications which can disable cards when they are stolen or when one suspects the account has been breached.
It is not only about manipulation of bank accounts. Scammers are enticing customers with too-good-to-be-true deals, offering pyramid schemes promising high returns on joining, only for the investment to disappear.
"Imagine I put in my US$10 into this scheme I joined through WhatsApp and was offered a return on that investment. But those people haven't delivered. I tried calling the administrator, but she doesn't pick up my calls, yet she continues to post in the WhatsApp group how others are making profit on their investments. She posts that some are making as much as US$50 in profits, but that's all part of the con," shrugged Thabani Maguchi, explaining how he was swindled out of US$10. He chose not to pursue the issue saying it was a paltry amount to bother the police with.
It is no surprise that Zimbabwe is a destination for cyber-criminals because of the high use of mobile money and online payments. Due to the large numbers in informal employment, a good many young people are exploring the use of digital network marketing programmes online. Unfortunately, some have been ripped off by bogus traders.
"Digital currency is used to fund network marketing programmes or forex trading. People are not trying to use digital currency to do online shopping. I do scare people away from such online trading. People have come to me shattered and battered saying they do not want to be scammed. It makes it difficult for even a legit person to have a deal with someone who has been scammed. But some continue to go through whatever they need to get that digital asset,” explains William Chui, a cryptocurrency enthusiast, on how people are being duped online.
Chui says knowledge and education are critical in protecting the people from being conned, in light of the increase in the use of digital currency, which offers good returns. Other online scams include paying for an item and not receiving, it or getting an inferior product, and identification theft, where personal details are taken and used for criminal activity.
Tabled before Zimbabwe's Parliament is the Cyber Security Bill which, if passed, would penalise scammers, though freedom-of-expression activists are worried that it could impinge on media freedoms. The Ministry of Information Communication Technology, who are sponsoring the bill, have started working with stakeholders to fight this type of crime.