Afrobeats star Davido raised over $400,000 last week by making Instagram videos in which he asked friends and fellow artists to send him money. The 29-year-old apparently started the stunt to clear a Rolls-Royce car from a port but ended up adding his money to the proceeds to pool $600,000 for charitable causes in Nigeria.
In an attempt to get a slice of the viral moment, scammers have sent text messages promising 10 gigabytes of data and $10 in airtime to Nigerians supposedly on Davido’s behalf, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator.
“This is a scam,” the NCC said on Nov. 23, describing the sting as “social engineering rip-offs designed to get people’s MSISDN and other information that fraudsters can use later to defraud unsuspecting telecom consumers and members of the public.” The messages contain links that supposedly redirect to websites where users would receive the promised airtime and data, the NCC said.
Social media has made it easy for brands and celebrities to announce cash giveaways to fans or people in need, sometimes inviting aspiring beneficiaries to post account details that expose sensitive user information. But even when celebrities request that bank accounts not be shared in public, scammers can take advantage of a big name’s buzz to phish by contacting users directly.
MSISDN stands for Mobile Station Integrated Services Digital Network, the technical name for user phone numbers. According to the NCC, “any unscrupulous person or unethical hacker can use [the number] to undermine the privacy of the real owners of the number through identity theft and other scams.”
SIM swap fraud is perhaps the most known type of scam involving phone numbers, where a fraudster is able to activate a user’s MSISDN on a new SIM card. A fraudster who successfully takes control of a phone number can, for example, receive two-factor authentication codes from a user’s financial accounts, or disable a user’s access to apps that require a phone number, like ride-hailing apps.
The FBI’s most recent report on internet crime said phishing scams were the most reported crimes by victims in 2020 and ranks Nigeria as the 16th worst affected country. Phishing attacks on phone numbers are on a smaller scale compared to the more global menace of business email compromise scams, but they are no less harmful considering mobile money’s dependence on phone numbers especially in Africa.
Phishing scams like the one leveraging Davido’s buzz require users to be alert to danger but also vigilant even in their enthusiasm to profit from unverified opportunities. As the NCC said, “If a promo or an offer seems too good to be true, then it is likely untrue.”
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