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US $ 100 mil EcoCash WhatsApp scam doesn't make sense & here’s why
Earlier on we reported on the EcoCash WhatsApp scam that has, according to the police, lost Zimbabweans US $ 100 million and counting. Now when we looked over what was being reported a few things didn't add up.
US $ 100 million over EcoCash?
According to The Herald, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) noted that over the last two months it received complaints of the EcoCash WhatsApp scam totaling the equivalent of US $ 100 million.
Now, I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of money to have been reported over the last two months even if the reports date back further. To put that figure into perspective that’s 4 times the amount that was traded at last week’s Forex Auction! This is for both the main and SMEs auction (US $ 25 250 768.95). US $ 100 million is also a tenth of what was remitted to Zimbabwe in 2020.
If we are to convert the US dollar total to ZWL $, at 1: 100 as an example, results in ZWL $ 10 billion! Why I making those comparisons and conversions is because EcoCash has a ZWL $ 35000 transaction limit per week.
At the current weekly limit, the scammers would have needed to rip off roughly 300,000 EcoCash users at different times. If something like this had been happening (at this scale), I am pretty sure there wouldn't have been more than the “several” complaints that the ZRP received.
Now, this isn't to say that the scams weren’t happening, our sources at EcoCash confirmed the problem. However, both Econet and EcoCash, could not give an official comment or any details on the issue as it is an ongoing investigation.
You can only scam people for so long
Saying that the scammers would have needed to impersonate 300,000 people might sound as inflated as the US $ 100 million figure. However, there are only so many lies you can tell before you are found out.
I am sure that scammers know that a mark is only good for one maybe two tricks before they catch on to what is going on. Even if we account for the fact that they were operating this EcoCash scam in WhatsApp groups. It still doesn't rule out that they would have needed a bunch of unique identities in order to garner the sum that was reported.
This raises the question, How were they able to get people’s lines to get on to their WhatsApp accounts and EcoCash wallets?
Well ... it could have been through Sim replacements
As we reported earlier the criminals behind this were able to steal a person’s number and then ask for financial assistance or offer US dollars at an above market rate in the victim’s WhatsApp groups.
The only way you can hijack a person’s line to gain the access to the scammers got is by replacing that person’s Sim card. Now, that's not the easiest thing to do because for you to replace someone’s sim card you’ll need to have:
- A police report detailing that you have indeed lost the SIM.
- Positive identification like your ID card or passport.
- In the case of a corporate line, you'll also need a signed letter on top of the other requirements.
Of all the things mentioned above the key to all of that is positive identification. As you are all aware by now, I am Techzim’s resident paranoid skeptic and the first thing that crossed my mind was Fake IDs.
Fraudulent identification cards aren't only found in movies but are a real problem worldwide. Back in 2017, the Registrar’s Office was on the lookout for criminals who were printing fake IDs.
"The Registrar-General security got a tip off about criminals who are printing fake national identity documents and sought the assistance of the police to arrest the culprits,"Registrar General’s Office (via The Herald)
In this case, however, the scammers would have needed to have the correct ID number and the correct phone numbers to replace SIM cards.
The imposter’s photo would of course be there to give the Econet attendant visual identification so they can start the process. The police report step of the process would also need some sort of ID.
Now if the scammers were able to obtain the appropriate documents to get someone’s Sim card replaced the question now is ...
Is there no digital ID on record that Econet & the ZRP can refer to?
If it is indeed a case of fake IDs then wouldn’t Econet and the ZPR on their part need to have a digital record or copy of an ID so they can begin the process?
Well on this we aren’t too sure but there is something that happened a while ago that could be the source of the problem. Late last year Econet opened up its SIM replacement services to its partner agencies and franchisees.
This meant that you didn't have to go to an Econet shop to get your Sim card replaced. At the time this was a welcome development because the mobile network operator was trying to curb queues at its shops because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although we have an extensive network of over 50 shops and franchisees across the country, for the convenience of our customers, our preferred customer service approach is to interface through digital channels and our self-care portals. One of the main drivers of traffic into our shops were sim-card replacements.
Our customers will soon be able to have a sim replacement at any of our partner agencies in addition to our shops, allowing for more service channels to be opened up.
However this measure sort of created a few problems. How much access did Econet give its partner agencies to its systems? Were the requirements for positive identification lowered? Could a simple visual of the ID and the corresponding ID number stored in the system be enough to replace a Sim card?
On the side of the ZRP, the case is the same. Are the Police verifying the IDs that they are processing to something on a digital or physical record?
Again these are things that we aren't too sure about but if you've gone through this please process leave us a comment.
As you can see this whole WhatsApp EcoCash scam situation is a mess. There are far too many variables and a number of failure points that could have made this possible.
However what all of this reveals (at least to us) is that EcoCash isn't alone in this. As previously mentioned the sum that is being talked about would have required the scammers a way of transacting outside the ZWL $ 35000 a week limit placed on EcoCash.
But this is after all an ongoing investigation and I am sure that we will hear more about this matter in the coming days or weeks.
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