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Cases of scams on social networks, via fraudulent advertisements for loans and product sales, are increasing in Mauritius, despite warnings. Experts recommend caution: checking ads, being wary of overly tempting offers, and avoiding disclosing personal information online.

A mechanic was recently scammed after being lured by a Facebook ad promising money loans for personal needs, with no fees or payments. Ultimately, his bank account was emptied after he provided personal details, such as the number. A few days earlier, a woman complained that she had been duped by an Internet user who claimed to sell designer fashion items. Like her, several other people were fooled.

Unfortunately, this type of scam has become commonplace. “You have to be wary of ads, especially if the offer is too good to be true,” explains Didier Sam-Fat, a cybersecurity consultant. He adds that if a car from a major brand is sold for Rs 100,000, for example, you have to ask yourself questions about the reliability of the offer.

He also recommends doing some research on the organisation offering such a service. Among the information to check, he suggests making sure that the organisation is indeed based in Mauritius, checking the telephone number and contacting the organisation to ask for more information.

Verification

In the case of someone considering taking out a loan, he explains that there are forms to fill out and documents to sign beforehand. You must also present your identity card. As a result, specifies the consultant, the pseudo-offers presented on social networks are nothing but scams. “No loan can be granted with a few clicks on social media. For any loan, you have to go to the bank on site,” he says. He also advises never sending proof of address upon request via social media, unless it's an accredited website.

Lawyer Kooshal Bansoodeb, for his part, insists on the importance of never giving your personal and sensitive contact details on social networks to anyone. He adds that under the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Act, any scammer is liable to prosecution, with a fine of up to Rs 1 million and imprisonment not exceeding 10 years for the misuse of a computer device.

There are also offences under the Criminal Code, such as “swindling” or “embezzlement” (embezzlement), when the requested transfers are used for other purposes. The elements of the two offences are quite similar, the lawyer points out.

He advises social media users to never pay in advance, but rather upon delivery. He also recommends never buying a product if the offer seems too good to be true. “Even outside of social media, you should be wary of selling low-priced products, as these may be stolen items and the buyer could be prosecuted for possession of such products,” he says.

As for the payments that buyers are required to make before delivery, Didier Sam-Fat explains that it is more complex, as there are legitimate websites that offer online payments. He notes that these sites have a refund mechanism if the product has not been delivered, for example.

The cybersecurity consultant emphasizes that it is always the seller who must prove that the transaction is correct and that the product has been delivered. He says you should check the website and call for more details.
“You have to check if the seller has a Business Registration Number (BRN), for example,” he says. He adds that through the history of the exchanges, it is possible to prosecute the seller or make a report to the police for fraudulent sale. Our speakers advocate for more education and awareness of the public on these types of practices and the precautions to take.


Beware of website spoofing

Imitation of a legitimate website, or commonly called “website spoofing”, is a practice in which hackers copy the websites of companies using a “domain name” similar to that of the original site.
In the context of a commercial bank for example, it draws attention to the given address which, instead of ending in “.mu”, can end in the number “1”. In other cases it may be “.com”. Any site using “HTTPS” uses the SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer / Transport Layer Security) protocol to encrypt data exchanged between a user and a server, thus offering several advantages including integrity, confidentiality and authentication.

Didier Sam-Fat explains that “typosquatting” is commonplace and that verification can be done through the HTTP protocol (HyperText Transfer Protocol), used for communication on the Web. He underlines the importance of ensuring that the “domain name” of the sites visited is correctly written and that the padlock is securely locked when “https” is activated.

Educate and raise public awareness

Loganaden Velvindron
Loganaden Velvindron.

Regulatory authorities should educate and increase public awareness of the risks of scams. This is the opinion of Me Kooshal Bansoodeb and Loganaden Velvindron, of Cyberstrom.mu.

According to the latter, users of social networks like Facebook must be aware of the risks, including scams. “It’s above all a question of education and user awareness,” he says. Users should also be wary of any requests to transfer money. Because in the absence of a contract between the seller and the buyer, there is nothing explicit. “People have to be very careful with any transaction,” emphasizes the computer scientist. He adds that you must at least have met the seller beforehand. He explains that there are various organizations that can provide information on the different plans, because all transactions must be regulated.

For him, the Mauritian authorities should negotiate for the presence of a Facebook office in Mauritius and make the country a hub for the region in terms of cybersecurity. He believes this approach could help identify and prevent fraudulent activity more quickly. There would thus be better synergy between Mauritius and Facebook.

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