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Facebook Scammers Are Preying On Kenya



Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

Early last year, Elizabeth, a salon owner in Nairobi, needed business supplies but didn’t have enough money to buy them. She thought she had found an answer when she came across a sponsored post on Facebook from a page called KWFT Loans Kenya.

“I saw the post had a sponsored sign and there was a Kenya Women Microfinance Bank logo. I thought to myself that this is probably the actual KWFT,” she told BuzzFeed News, referring to the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank, a reputable microfinance institution that provides loans to women.

It wasn’t KWFT.

But the page did offer unsecured loans delivered via mobile phone with an annual interest rate far lower than typical personal bank loans in Kenya, which range from 13% to 20%, or the terms offered by unregulated and often predatory mobile loan apps, a popular source of financing used by close to 20 million people in Kenya.

Screenshots via Facebook

Scam ads seen on Facebook

The link brought Elizabeth (not her real name) to a Google Form that asked her for her name and identification card number, a unique ID that Kenyans use for official activities like registering their SIM cards, opening bank accounts, and obtaining government services. She sent what the form called a loan fee of 310 Kenyan shillings ($3) via a mobile transfer to a man named Anthony Muriungi, who claimed to be a “loans agent officer.”

She soon realized she’d been scammed.

“I remember calling them a few times and getting no response. I then realized these were probably conmen, but since I hadn’t lost a lot of money, I let it go.”

A KWFT spokesperson confirmed that it was a scam, telling Buzzfeed News the page didn’t belong to the bank and that it had been warning the public about fake pages using its name. While the company does offer loans, it’s a service it offers through its app and on mobile phones through USSD, no payment is required to either access or process the loans that it gives.

The Facebook scammers weren’t done with Elizabeth.

A few days after paying the fee, she received a call from a person claiming to be a customer service representative with her phone carrier, Safaricom, carrying out a “security check” on her SIM card, claiming it had been damaged. To establish their credibility, the person read out her full name and identification card number and referred to the recent transaction she had made. They asked her to confirm her identity by stating her date of birth, her latest mobile money transactions, and her SIM card’s PIN. That kicked off the second part of the scam, which saw the fraudsters use this bounty of personal information to open a new phone account under her name and take out loans with three different mobile loan providers, destroying her rating with Kenya’s Credit Reference Bureaus.

A Safaricom spokesperson told Buzzfeed News that they were aware of these forms of social engineering, as customers had been reporting cases to them. The spokesperson said Safaricom does not call to ask for personal information from its customers. “We monitor, detect, and take action against any numbers found to be involved in phishing or smishing activities,” they said. “We work very closely with law enforcement agencies in investigation of noted fraudulent activities.”

Simon Maina / Getty Images

But what started as a small scam she dismissed as bad luck left her in financial ruin — because Elizabeth still needed the money.

“Given that I was in an emergency and couldn’t go to a bank for a loan, I ended up at a [loan shark’s] office in the central business district. He charged me about 20% interest in exchange for my laptop as security. I struggled to pay back the amount I had borrowed within a month, but in the end I paid an exorbitant amount just to get my property back.”

Elizabeth was the victim of a long-running, widespread scam that has exploited Facebook’s advertising system to steal money from struggling Kenyans. The country’s economic struggles, its high rate of Facebook use, and an innovative and widely used mobile payment system create the perfect conditions for scammers.

An investigation by BuzzFeed News has identified 52 scam loan and recruitment Facebook pages with more than 245,000 followers, targeting people in Kenya. Some were created as early as 2017; some as recently as Aug. 2. They have titles like “Tuskys supermarket jobs” and “Equity Mobile Loans.” One ad claims “NEW YEAR JOB RECRUITMENT Urgent Mass Recruitment at Tuskys supermarkets. To apply,kindly click on this link to apply.” Another claims, “JOYWO loans give you an opportunity to apply for an Unsecured Online Loan No paperwork No long procedures We are committed to arranging Cash Assistance for Women borrowers and youths living in Kenya.”

The scam pages falsely claim to belong to well-known banks, supermarkets, gas stations, and other companies known to give loans or recruit large numbers of people. They leverage the credibility of real brands to entrap people like Elizabeth into applying for fake loans or for nonexistent jobs that require real fees.

And these ads appear to be working. The Tuskys supermarket fraud, which asked for 350 Kenyan shillings in order to be short-listed for a job interview had 24,772 interactions. Another supermarket fraud, using the Naivas brand name, which requested 370 Kenyan shillings in order to be short-listed for a job as well, had 6,576 interactions, according to analytics data provided by CrowdTangle. In total, BuzzFeed News found 78,936 interactions from the 52 forms. Going by current engagement rates on Facebook, this means that the fraudsters could have reached millions of Kenyans with the help of the platform’s ad program.

Both Naivas and Tuskys supermarkets told BuzzFeed News that the campaigns weren’t theirs. This isn’t the first time such ads had been brought to their attention. In 2017 and 2019, Naivas raised the alarm about the same scam to its customers, letting them know that it only conducts recruitment processes at its head office and not via Google Forms. Tuskys also flagged the ads to its customers 2017 and 2018.

In both instances, the comments sections of the cautionary posts reveal a flurry of people who’ve already been ripped off complaining about losing their money to the scammers.

Despite the scale of the rip-offs, those pages remain active. One that purports to provide KWFT loans, different from the one that ensnared Elizabeth, had at least 85 comments from people who said they had been ripped off. It remains online, as do four fake KWFT loan pages that are still active as of this writing.

A Facebook spokesperson in Kenya said the company invests heavily in trying to tackle scams and bad actors.

“We’re putting significant resources towards tackling these kinds of ads,” they said a statement. “It’s important to us that ads on Facebook are useful to people and not used to promote deceptive behavior, like using images of public figures and organizations to mislead people. We remove pages that violate our advertising policies.”

The spread of COVID-19, which has risen to 27,425 cases in Kenya since March 13, inspired scammers to create new variations.

Frederick, another victim who declined to give his real name, is a waiter who lost his job in the wake of the pandemic. He fell for a coronavirus volunteer recruitment version of the scam, where he paid a “registration fee” to get short-listed for a job but never heard back from the recipient. He blamed the legitimate-looking nature of the pages and the desperation of his situation.

“At the time I was really desperate for a job and the cash I sent them was the chunk of the little I had. It’s a shame as you can imagine how many people they have stolen from,” he said.

Noah Miller, a cybersecurity researcher and cofounder of the Sochin Research Institute in Nairobi, said the high usage of Facebook in Kenya has led people to trust it. “Facebook is a trusted zone for communication for many Kenyans. In this environment, people’s first instinct is to trust what they see,” he told BuzzFeed News. ”You will trust it more than an email that comes to you directly, and therefore it’s easier for scammers to get to you there instead of sending you an email.”

Since 2016, Facebook has invested in artificial intelligence and human fact-checkers and reviewers. Of the company’s estimated 30,000 global content reviewers, 130 are based in Nairobi, the company’s only sub-Saharan Africa content review center. It is run by Samasource, a company headquartered in San Francisco that provides data labeling services for AI technologies.

Facebook has also partnered with Pesacheck, AFP, Africa Check, France 24 Observers, and Dubawa to perform fact-checking in sub-Saharan Africa. Alphonce Shiundu of Africa Check said they deal with scams in addition to their primary work debunking falsehoods.

But Facebook and its regional partners seem powerless to stop the scams.

“This is a widespread problem that we’ve been facing on Facebook. We have been seeing a lot of these scams,” Shiundu said. “It’s been a game of whack-a-mole with these scammers on Facebook. When we spot one and rate it as false, they open another one and another one. We have basically been chasing them around Facebook.”

The scams have also caught the attention of Kenya’s authorities, who have repeatedly warned of an increase in such scams as COVID-19 has made people more desperate for jobs and loans. Peter Mbatha, a cyber forensics expert at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), said when asked during a webinar in June that DCI collaborates with Facebook, but did not say whether or not they work together to combat scams. “The DCI is able to communicate with them, and we can make requests on any criminal aspects touching on individuals who have used their platforms. They usually respond when they are called upon to handle such matters and issues.”

Shiundu said automated systems and algorithms aren’t enough to catch the scammers early on.

“If we leave it to algorithms, which is what they use to flag [content] to fact-checkers, then that becomes slow, algos cannot answer everything and we find a lot of false positives,” he said.

Robin Busolo, a lawyer who handles regulatory affairs at the Communications Authority of Kenya, the body that regulates Kenya’s communications industry, told BuzzFeed News that Facebook had a responsibility to deal with crimes taking place on its platform.

“I doubt whether Facebook can be absolved from their culpability in the case where harm is meted out on their platform,” he said. But he was also frank that “we have no jurisdiction over them.”

That leaves victims of crimes that happen on Facebook like Elizabeth with no hope of seeing it reined in or penalized in Kenya, leaving caution as the only option.

“People need to be careful about how they use these online platforms,” she said. “It’s not as safe as most of us might like to think. What happened to me has probably happened to many vulnerable people, and it could’ve been a lot worse.”

This article was developed with the support of the Money Trail project.

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Washington’s crackdown on Google is the greatest threat yet to Big Tech | Google




For decades, companies like Google have enjoyed exponential growth and an almost unobstructed rise to power. But the tide appears to be turning, as US lawmakers crack down on alleged monopolistic practices and public sentiment sours on the former wunderkinder of Silicon Valley.

Antitrust charges brought against Google on Tuesday by the US justice department mark the latest – and most significant – legal challenge yet for big tech.

Barry Lynn, the executive director of the Open Markets Institute, and a longtime critic of tech monopolies, calls the case “an incredibly important statement of intent”.

“By the time this ends I think we will see a radically different company and industry,” he said.

But the charges are also “just a start”, he said, and questions remain about exactly what laws will be created to regulate big tech, with partisan bias and a disorganized smattering of agencies investigating tech firms muddying the waters.

The charges filed against Google are not without controversy. The case was reportedly rushed through by Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, who pushed for it to be filed against the wishes of lawyers who wanted to take more time on the case. Doing so on the cusp of an election that may result in a change of administration “could be detrimental” to the long-term goal of reining in tech giants, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.

“It is altogether messy,” he said. “It is not clear whether what comes out of it will be systematic and well-thought-through.”

The Department of Justice is just one entity racing to take action against Google. In September 2019, attorneys general in 50 US states and territories announced an investigation into both Google and Facebook over alleged “monopolistic behavior”. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has been separately investigating Amazon and Facebook to determine if they abused their massive market power. And in October, a major report detailing an investigation by the House judiciary committee concluded that big tech wielded “too much power” and was censoring political speech, spreading fake news and “killing” the engines of the American economy.

The investigations are made more complicated by the fact that opposition to big tech has become largely politicized, with Democrats mostly targeting companies for their monopoly power and Republicans accusing them of censoring conservative speech.

The latter view is championed by one of the most vocal critics of big tech, Donald Trump. The president has repeatedly accused Twitter and Facebook of censoring him and threatened to take away their protections under Section 230, a statute providing protections for content hosts, which he inaccurately believes would give him more freedom online. The justice department’s charges may represent Trump’s final vendetta against tech companies for their perceived slights against him.

“This may be the last gasp of an administration that we won’t see again for awhile,” Tobias said.

The charges against Google, which describe the company as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”, also highlight a changing perception of the tech industry from benevolent innovators to menacing corporate superpowers.

“Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy startup with an innovative way to search the emerging internet. That Google is long gone,” the suit alleged.

And by taking aim at Google’s search and advertising operations, the justice department has opened a path that could have a wide-ranging impact not just on Google but on the entire tech industry, Lynn said.

“This could lead to investigations of other large parts of their business. Mapping is a search service, YouTube is a search service,” he said. Other companies including Amazon and Facebook are reliant on search to dominate their sectors, he said.

The justice department is modeling its attack on Google as a parallel to the famous Microsoft lawsuit of 1998 – the last time the US government accused a company of operating a monopoly under the Sherman Act, a law that dates back to 1890 and encourages competition between enterprises.

In many ways, Google’s rise to power has become emblematic of the problems posed by big tech. In its infancy, the co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin reviled Microsoft as a technological bully that ruthlessly abused its dominance of the personal computer software market to choke off competition that could spawn better products.

Their disdain for Microsoft spurred Google to adopt “Don’t be evil” as a corporate motto, one that remained its moral compass during its transition from a free-wheeling startup to a publicly traded company suddenly accountable to shareholders. Google abandoned that motto in 2018, and now confronts an existential threat similar to what Microsoft once faced.

The onslaught of antitrust action against big tech comes years after the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that the massive power of Facebook may have been used to sway US elections. Consumers have suffered through years of major data breaches. This year the world watched Amazon executive Jeff Bezos grow $24bn richer while the rest of the global economy suffered from the shocks of a pandemic. Consumers, Tobias said, are fed up.

“People feel like they don’t have control, that they’ve lost all their privacy to companies that just don’t give a damn about them,” he said. “You have to imagine members of Congress have to be responsive to that.”

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Robot basketball and absurdist golf: five of the weirdest sports video games | Games




When you think of sports video games you might think of Fifa or Madden, which obsessively mimic their real-life equivalents – or Track & Field, which valiantly if unsuccessfully tries to. But not all developers play by the rules. From impossible athletics to fantasy baseball players with 27 fingers, these are some of the weirdest virtual takes on sport around.

QWOP (Bennett Foddy, 2008)

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Screengrab from QWOP

Unintentionally hilarious … QWOP. Photograph:

Bennett Foddy loves the Olympics, especially the 50km race walk “for its heartbreaking reversals in fortune”. He has also always loved physics-based video games, like the arcade game Gravitar (1982) and Ski Stunt Simulator (2001). So it was natural that he would want to make an athletics game with proper dynamic physics. “What I didn’t realise at the time,” he says, “is that this is actually an incredibly hard robotics problem, and I was an extremely incompetent self-taught coder.”

Foddy took the batsman from his earlier cricket game Little Master Cricket, chucked the bat, and connected his thighs and calves to the Q, W, O, and P keys. The result was the unintentionally hilarious QWOP (2008), in which you clumsily control the sole athletics representative of a small nation with an underfunded training programme, flailing down the track like a ragdoll. Even making it past the starting line is an achievement here.

Behold the Kickmen

Photograph: Size Five Games

Behold the Kickmen (Size Five Games, 2017)


Dan Marshall has an “actual deep-seated hatred” of football, thanks to its prominence in the news alongside war and the climate crisis, the “extortionate” salaries of players, and its general unavoidable ubiquity. But one day, when his newborn son had left him too sleep-deprived to focus on bigger tasks (like working on his latest game Lair of the Clockwork God, out now on Switch), he thought it would be funny if he made a football game anyway. So he tweeted about it. “And it went like wildfire,” Marshall says. “As a game developer, you can’t buy that sort of publicity.”

The joke became a game, complete with comical story mode, its design influenced by the flippant Twitter personality Marshall adopted when politely informing “actual livid football fans” that it was an umpire, not a referee, who would give you a little kiss when you scored a goal. The pitch is round and striped, and you start in the Premier League, “which makes sense. Premier means first.”

Regular Human Basketball (Powerhoof, 2018)


Screengrab from Regular Human Basketball

Machines of the future reinterpreting an ancient game … Regular Human Basketball. Photograph: Powerhoof

In Regular Human Basketball, players cooperate to control a giant robot from the inside. Developer Dave Lloyd says: “I thought, what’s simpler than picking up a ball and putting it in a net?” Co-creators Barney Cumming and Louis Meyer, basketball fans themselves, agreed, and Meyer injected his knowledge of the sport into a commentary about machines of the future reinterpreting this ancient game.

Using a real sport meant the designers didn’t have to teach the player what to do, especially since more complex basketball rules were left out for the sake of simplicity. “[It] reinforced to us how powerful real-world sport can be as a tool to give players a clear objective,” says Lloyd. “But the main lesson was that, like real-world sport, it’s the interaction going on between the people as they play that generates most of the fun.”

The developers also made a free game that’s closer to actual basketball, “but with a lot more kicking people”, based on the “natural shooting motion” of NBA player Draymond Green. “It got more attention than we bargained for,” Lloyd says. “And reps from Golden State Warriors, uh, asked us kindly to remove the references to their players.”

What the Golf? (Triband, 2019)

PC, iOS (Apple Arcade)

Screengrab from WHAT THE GOLF?

The flag and green are the only constants … What the Golf? Photograph: Triband

Tim Garbos, creative director of developer Triband, doesn’t like golf. “It’s perfectly neatly trimmed grass, perfect round balls, perfectly dressed white people, often. Everything is just terrible.” For those who feel the same, What the Golf? markets itself as “the golf game for people who hate golf”.

Triband was trying to make a regular golf game when “we realised that golf is just not fun,” as Garbos puts it. So they started to subvert it: “OK, what if the flag moves?” Then they started designing levels from the punchline backwards, like the one where you send a hole across the green into a crater shaped like the number one. When they realised golf is just about getting from A to B, they started seeing it everywhere: “We looked at Brexit and made a prototype where we golfed the UK away from Europe.” The flag and green are the only constants; everything else is changeable.

Blaseball (The Game Band, 2020)

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Screengrab from Blaseball

‘Something that could bring everybody together while we’re isolated’ … Blaseball. Photograph:

Then there’s Blaseball, the browser-based absurdist fantasy baseball league where players gamble fake currency and vote for decrees like “Open the Forbidden Book” or “Peanuts”. Thanks to the interplay of the data simulation running in the background and the unpredictable whims of human fans, nobody ever knows what’s going to happen next. Creative director Sam Rosenthal says the goal was to design a game “for the platforms of this moment […] and something that could bring everybody together while we’re isolated”.

He had initially pitched a similar concept but with horse racing: “I distinctly remember there being this, like, deafening silence.” But developer Joel Clark, a baseball fan, set them on the right path. “It is a game where we’re doing a lot of die rolls and playing with that randomness, and letting fans tell a story in that randomness.”

The game’s world is progressive, anti-capitalist, and ripe for fan theories. Recently, a player who spontaneously combusted in a previous season was brought back to life, and promptly started taking out other players with pitches to the head. As developer Stephen Bell puts it: “Normally sports are aggressively pushing an idea of what’s normal, and if you allow yourself to get weird people will be drawn to that and will run with it.”

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Why are 400,000 people watching AOC play the game Among Us on Twitch? | Twitch




Hi Patrick, I keep seeing lots of screenshots of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing some game involving little Telly Tubby-type creatures. What’s all that about?

Hey Josh. So basically AOC (and Ilhan Omar, for a bit) is playing a video game called Among Us with some internet-famous people, and she’s broadcasting the whole thing live on the internet to anyone who wants to tune in!

How does the game work?

It’s a social deduction game like the party games Mafia or Werewolf, basically, but set on a spaceship or space base or something. Players are either normal players or an impostor. Players have to continually complete tasks to stay alive, while the murderer(s) stalk their ranks, sabotage the ship or murder players. But if a body is discovered, or players get suspicious enough, everyone gets together for a meeting and votes someone out. If there’s ever an equal number of impostors to regular players, the impostors win, and if all the impostors get voted out, it’s a victory for the normal folk. By the way, it’s common etiquette only to talk to one another in the meetings, so fast talking and frantic persuasion is the best path to victory.

So the premise of the game is to deceive and mislead people until you win? Sounds like politics!

AOC agrees with you – she basically said that verbatim, right after another player blatantly lied to her face and then proceeded to backstab her to win the game!

Why are they doing this?

Among Us is free on PC and mobile, so it’s a huge hit with the kids these days … and the teens … and the 20-somethings … basically anyone with a computer, an internet connection and a vague awareness of what Twitch is. AOC and Omar are pitching this as a way to get the ‘get out and vote’ message to a youth audience. Possibly they also just wanted to stream on the internet with friends, because that’s pretty fun.

How many people have been watching it?

Looks like they peaked at about 430,000 viewers, and it was at about 400,000 or so when they wrapped. That’s worldwide though.

Wow, that’s a lot of people. How many people usually watch Twitch streams?

Well, the record is about 628,000 when Drake was streaming with well-known streamer Ninja on Fortnite, but those are megastar numbers. Regularly popular streamers might pull anywhere from the low thousands to low hundreds, while regular folks without an already existing social media following might get 10 or so viewers – if they’re lucky.

Will it win new voters?

Probably not new voters – if you’re excited about Democratic celebrity AOC streaming on Twitch, you’re already four-fifths of the way to being a terminally online leftist in any event. But it could encourage more people to talk about the stream and about voting, and AOC was encouraging people to proactively make “voting plans”, voter suppression being what is in the United States, so it certainly can’t hurt.

Is this the first time politicians have been using video games to try to encourage people to vote for them?

I seem to recall multiple politicians, Hillary Clinton included, trying to get in on virtual MMO Second Life back when that was the next big thing, but that was mostly unofficial. Certainly this is the first I recall a politician even knowing how to play a video game at all, let alone exhibit some competence in it and seem genuine while doing so. Most gamers tend to see politicians, who are generally older and less tech-savvy, coming into their space as at least a little suspicious. Or to put in Among Us terms … a little suss.

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