Lure of easy money leads Nepalis into traps of online fraudstersThe scams mainly take place through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or through websites such as Google and Yahoo!.
Six months ago, a 40-year-old man from Pokhara with ‘Rana’ surname got a message on WhatsApp. It offered him a chance to be a billionaire.
The message said one ‘Alex Clork Rana’ had died in Canada a few years ago, and there was no one to claim his $78 million lying in the Royal Bank of Canada.
The message urged the receiver to withdraw the huge sum, while congratulating him on his good fortune to be bequeathed a fortune. Rana, who owned a small business in Pokhara, was taken into confidence by the messenger, who further told him that he could easily give evidence to the bank of the Pokhara man's link to Alex Clork Rana. The bank would then hand over the money to him as soon as the verification formalities were completed.
Initially, Rana was asked to send $1,500 in order to hire a lawyer for the purpose. Then, on various other pretexts, he was made to send large sums to 11 different individual bank accounts.
“When he lodged a complaint to us on March 7, he had already sent
$78,000 [equivalent to around Rs 10.2 million] to the fraud from different bank accounts, all from Pokhara,” said Senior Superintendent of Police Pashupati Kumar Ray, also the spokesperson at Cyber Bureau, based in Bhotahity.
He said the case is currently under investigation at the bureau office.
In a similar case, on March 12, another man in his early thirties with Shrestha surname from Kathmandu got a message from Canada via Facebook messenger, requesting him to claim $500 million, as soon as possible.
In the message, it was mentioned that a man with Shrestha surname had died in the 2016 Russia plane crash. The deceased’s $500 million was frozen in a Canadian bank and nobody was claiming the money from Nepal.
Shrestha was asked to come to Thailand to collect the amount with his identification documents. But before he proceeded, he chose to contact the cyber bureau.
“We were able to stop him from sending money after he came to our bureau to inquire about it,” said spokesperson Ray.
“But the problem is that when they get such messages, people get excited and transfer money without giving it a second thought.”
In October, another man Suraj Bhandari (name changed) got a message on Facebook messenger that said he had won Rs 2.5 million in a lottery. He was asked to contact an agent in India for further details.
To withdraw the amount, he was asked to pay Rs75,000, in three instalments from three different banks, and Bhandari did. After he was asked to pay a final Rs100,000 instalment to get the promised sum, he went to a fortune teller with his wife to inquire if he would really get the total amount or the money he had transferred so far had gone to waste.
“When he came with his wife, he had already paid Rs 75,000, and over the past one month, more than eight people had come to me with such fraudulent lottery cases,” said Arjun Adhikari, 58, a practising priest who also works as a fortune teller from his home in Balaju, Kathmandu.
Adhikari said that most victims came to him to inquire if he/she had the luck to win a lottery this year while also informing him of the lottery messages. “I told them that it was a scam,” Adhikari told the Post over the phone.
He admitted that he himself had gotten fraudulent lottery messages several times, but he had just ignored them all.
These anecdotes show how new-age fraudsters are duping gullible Nepalis.
Officials at the cyber bureau said that they get nearly a dozen such cases every single day.
“Many are aware of such scams, but some easily believe them and fall into a trap,” said Ray. He said being a little cynical can save people from falling victims to such scams.
Ray referred to Rana's case. “If only he had used common sense, he could have saved himself from being defrauded of such a big amount,” said Ray. “You can see how easily he had been sending money from different banks to Nepali account holders’ names, before he came to us.”
According to cyber bureau data, in the past eight months, financial frauds committed online topped the list of cybercrimes in the country, followed by ‘revenge porn’ and fake profiles on social media.
Data shows that out of the total 4,937 cases registered with the bureau until April first week, there were 955 cases of financial frauds, which comes to about 20 percent of the total online crimes committed in the country. In the same period, there were 901 and 898 registered cases of revenge porn and fake profiles, respectively.
“Only a few of them who get duped come here. Many do not even complain,” said Ray.
Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent of Police Nabindra Aryal, who is also the chief of the cyber bureau, said the bureau is having difficulties in acting on such types of crimes as they are being committed outside of the country.
He said in such cases the bureau often seeks help from the Interpol.
“As we don’t have Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties and a legal framework to deal with such issues, it’s really difficult for us,” said Aryal.
He said even well educated people are being victimised through online phishing scams.
Aryal said the online scams mainly take place through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or through web sites such as Google and Yahoo!, whose central offices are located outside the country.
“This has been adding complications in our work,” said Aryal.
Sociologists say many people these days want to make big bucks without putting in the hard work.
“People think there are easy ways of making a lot of money. This belief often lands them in trouble,” said Guman Singh Khatri, an assistant professor at the Central Department of Sociology at Tribhuvan University.
He said the state and the media should better educate people on new kinds of cybercrimes.