There has been a meteoric surge in online scam activity in Zimbabwe lately. This is even though scams have been broadly getting rampant even offline. If you are in Zimbabwe chances are that once or even more times you have received some malicious SMSes, emails, or even voice calls. This also spans to pop-up ads online that are directed at Zimbabweans. For most people, the tricky issue has been how one can identify an online scam. It is upon that premise that I have decided to discuss that in this article.

Plain Common Sense

Before looking at some practical or relatable examples, let us start with common sense. Sadly, common sense is usually not as common as we would anticipate. Picture a scenario like this: you receive an SMS from someone claiming that a late relative of yours left behind an inheritance for you. You know all too well that you do not have a relative of yours who either recently passed away or would possibly leave an inheritance. Why then would you fall for such a gimmick? You see, plain common sense can guide you accordingly.

Another example: you receive an SMS saying you won a prize in a Shoprite competition. Suppose you are in Zimbabwe and have never shopped at Shoprite (which is not even in Zimbabwe). Why would you believe that you actually won a competition you never entered about a supermarket you have never shopped at? Learn to put your common sense cap on; be inquisitive – do not be easily gullible!

Too Good To Be To True

It is strange how many people fall for scams yet they all have one recurrent signature. If scamming were a serial killer their MO would have one major characteristic. That is the quality of being too good to be true. You probably have heard of the adage, if it is too good to be true, it usually is. People who have been scammed online or came across online scams will attest to this. You will generally question whatever will be presented to you because it will be sounding too good to be true. Unfortunately, some people ignore that gut feeling and dive in. Let me cite an example:

Lately, there have been people on WhatsApp advertising that they have cheaper mobile data bundles for all networks. So for instance, they would say a NetOne 25 GB data bundle goes for ZWL$1800 (yet it goes for ZWL$3500 on the NetOne menu). That would imply that it is ZWL$1700 cheaper – too good to be true huh? Yeah, it actually is, how on earth can someone provide a data bundle that cheaper; cheaper than the MNO itself. That is a red flag and some have been duped already.

Someone contacted one of these guys and of course, they had that ‘it is too good to be true feeling. So they questioned the authenticity of the offer and the person said they could send half and settle the rest once the data was sent. As soon as they sent the money, the number could no longer be reached and that was it. If it is too good to be true, it usually is!

Before I get into the next talking points let me share with you examples of scamming SMSes. They will form the basis for some of the things to look out for:

Example One:

Hi. Your Mobile won 850,000.00 in 2021 Pepsi Intl’l mobile Promo. To Redeem, kindly send your name and email address to:PEPSAWS@HOTMAIL.COM

Example Two:

I am writing to you regarding the funds left behind by your relation. Kindly E-mail me ASAP on:charlesvheitta@gmail.com for details. Attorney Charles

Example Three:

Hello, Sorry, I sent you a 6-digit SMS code by mistake. Can you give it to me? This is urgent?

Spelling, Typological And Grammatical Errors

You will literally always find this recurring in any scamming scenario. There will be spelling errors, typos, incorrect grammar and just the general arrangement of text can be haphazard or out of place. Notice in the first example of how some of the first letters of words are randomly capitalized. Notice also how the email address in uppercase. The 850000 is also not denominated. ‘International’ is in shorthand form which is unlikely for a message coming from a global professional enterprise. From example two, it sounds off to say ‘relation’ because normally it should have been ‘relative’. If you are not observant you can miss all these aspects but they are all red flags. It is an interesting thing about how such errors are rampant in scamming activities.

Non-Personalized Email Addresses

In the first two examples, there are Hotmail and Gmail email addresses. The entities in question, if professional would have personalized email addresses e.g. …@pepsiglobal.com. The use of generic email addresses is in itself a red flag. No wonder it is also important as a business to have personalized email addresses – it makes you look professional.

Personal Login Details Are Never Requested

The third example is just one example to show you that personal login details will never be requested by SMS, email or voice call. For instance, your bank cannot request your account PIN under whatever circumstance through those ways. That example there is a scam where if you sent the code the person gains access to your phone.

These are some of the basic tips that can boost your vigilance against online scamming. There is so much more to explore because scamming are so diverse. For instance, do not always be in the habit of clicking on pop-ups when you are online. You could receive a pop-up saying you have just won an iPhone – learn to simply ignore such. You could see things like full scholarships to study in the UK for Zimbabweans. You could see things like workers needed in Dubai from Zimbabwe. Do not be easily gullible; learn to turn a blind eye to all that. Billions of US dollars are lost to scammers annually the world over so this is no joking matter.