Why do scams survive without changing much, other than minor details? Here I am again, talking about scams. However, I would like to take a more philosophical view this time. Let us look at how and why people get caught. Again. And (sometimes) again!
I want to state that scams illustrate parts of the Human Condition we may not be too proud of. Added to that the novel situation we find ourselves in with the Coronavirus and the unprecedented acceleration of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has made this worse.
History casts a long shadow
Let us start with a juicy story. Eleven years ago, former Western Cape premier, Helen Zille, introduced her first Cabinet. Amongst others, she named her Housing MEC, Bonginkosi Madikizela, and, as one is prone to do, showing off how well educated he was. He, apparently, had obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Human Resource Management. He did not need anything more than a Matric certificate for the job – or any others he has since held – but still. One wants to inspire confidence and education seems a legitimate way to do so.
Eleven years later, Madikizela is now the leader of the DA in the Western Cape. On his official biography on the Western Cape government website, his resume still proudly displays his B. Com degree. These, after all, do not come with an expiry date.
Only, it is not the truth
When Zille was asked how this could have escaped the watchful eye of HR, she reportedly said that “eleven years ago, when my office prepared a statement on the Cabinet choices, we used the CVs received from the candidates. We accepted at face value what they told… At that stage, the verification of qualifications was not a routine matter, as it is today.”
Only, it still happens
And the DA has been quite vociferous about similar situations where it concerns OTHER parties. Statements of indignation were made in 2014 about a false claim that Pallo Jordan had a doctorate. Steenhuisen stated in dismay that the DA “cannot condone Jordan’s dishonesty with regards to his academic qualifications”.
In 2015, when it was revealed that South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko also did not possess the degree she proclaimed to have the DA called for her “immediate recalling and suspension” and called it “an international blunder”. She also, strictly speaking, did not NEED the degree to do the job.
Only, it is illegal to lie about this
President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the amended National Qualifications Framework Act into law in 2019. It is now a criminal offence to lie about your credentials. Sooo… what about those who have lied in the past and now hold positions because of that?
Muddied waters – when the moral compass breaks down
So, what does the above have to do with scams and why they survive in ways that smells fishy? Because society is, in many ways, rotten. Corruption is currently so severe, that these ‘minor’ deceptions can be made less of a priority. So why NOT cut corners? Why NOT help the company do some creative accounting when it comes to SARS?
Boiling a frog, slowly
And soon, like the proverbial frog in the pot, we become desensitized. You may ask, why NOT help the Nigerian War Lord smuggle money out of the country? It is such a corrupt environment already!
We see Big Fish getting away… so why not try our luck, too? Conversely, EVERYBODY seems to be getting scammed, so we often do not even bother to report it.
Not upsetting the members of the Big Boys Club
Remember how much members of the ANC denied knowing that they are in bed with the Guptas? Well. Gwede Mantashe testified at the Zondo commission. He spoke about the history of the above-mentioned relationship and said “… a few years after arriving, Mr Ajay Gupta became a member of President Thabo Mbeki’s International Advisory Council. [Later], he approached the ANC to establish ANN7 and The New Age,” said Mantashe, explaining that the ANC had welcomed the opportunity to diversify the media.
“At that stage, we did not know their other businesses. What we know today, we did not know then,” he said. He claimed that the party only figured out they were heading for trouble once the family landed a private wedding plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013. Oh, and then there was the small matter of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula (then serving in a different portfolio) telling the ANC NEC meeting that he had been told of his deployment by the family.
As the Gupta’s hold over the State became clearer, “the ANC did not tell its MP’s not to ask questions” or to “stop thinking”, said Mantashe. But many did. Many chose to because it suited them. After all, those who spoke up got into trouble and lost more than they gained.
Crises make people hunger after ‘the good old days of cow and kin’
We want to belong (and yes, generally so that we can get something out of it, rather than do good to others). We want to believe that somewhere, somehow, someone is thinking of us and want to help a brother (or a sister) out. Have you also heard from your long-lost uncle who recently died and now wants to do good by you because you are family?
Appealing to your better nature
Someone who realised I was an activist contacted me for help. They had done their homework well. They knew I had been a political detainee. They stated that their country, Biafra, needed liberation from their oppressive government.
For those of you who do not want to take the time to do a quick Google search, the Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in West Africa that existed from May 1967 to January 1970 during the Nigerian Civil War. Maybe I should have offered to donate millions of Biafran pound!
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – a blessing and a curse
We get bombarded, every day, with so much information on such diverse topics that it may feel like our brains are about to explode. Some of the latest advances in technology sound very much unbelievable. Some of what is patently false, sound very much like the truth. In fact, it becomes hard to know what to believe. And so, we may feel paralysed. We turn to social media for a bit of distraction and, wouldn’t you know it? The very thing you were researching or wondering about, appears on your newsfeed as ‘sponsored content’ or ‘recommended for you’! We feel overwhelmed at the pace the world is moving and we react rather than taking the time to respond.
One of my all-time favourite hoaxes comes with the help of FaceBook. The algorithms identify you as someone looking for a passive income stream. FaceBook obliges by offering you an opportunity to trade in foreign currencies. Click yes, and this friendly fellow contacts you by phone. All you need to start is a deposit of R3500 to R5000.
An hour after you make the deposit, he phones to tell you that you have already made a profit!!! You are encouraged to add more funds as you have the Midas touch. Everything goes smoothly until you want to make a withdrawal. That is when you learn your investments have disappeared.
Social isolation & algorithms
Under ‘usual’ circumstances (at least in the past when we were not confined to our computers at home) we would talk to people. Over lunch, or at the proverbial water cooler, or in the line at the bus stop, or the bank these bits of social chit chat would often allow us to share stories and make it easier to ask others ‘what do you think about this?’
Now we are alone. We are not used to being so isolated from others. We are scared. We feel lonely. Our economic futures feel uncertain. And algorithms feed us the kind of information it thinks we want, based on previous searches and articles we lingered over. Again, like the proverbial frog in the pot, we start to think of this as the only information that is out there – familiarity breeds content.
Like with political parties that trust their comrades because they are of similar ilk and because it takes work, time, and resources to vet information, we do not. Especially if we must dig deep and we do not like what we find. We are tired of being super aware and critical. All. The. Time. We are all trying to survive and want things, for once, to be easy. To go our way. We want to trust others.
Here are some low-energy tips to cope
- H.A.L.T – do not make decisions about ANYTHING if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. If a deal sounds exceptional, check in with yourself. Is there another reason why this excites me so?
- What is the rush – scammers use time pressure as their number one method of getting you not to say: wait a minute…
- Do not click on anything – at least not from a company or financial institution that you are not expecting an email from – do NOT go down the rabbit hole of checking ‘just in case’ – delete and alert the originator. They will soon enough tell you and resend if need be.
- Forward things to those in the know – wise people do not know everything, but they surround themselves with those who do. Send information on and ask: in your professional opinion, what do you think?