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Online shoppers warned against surging cybercrime

Seabata Mahao

Vigilance is a very pertinent virtue for especially persons who trade online as a result of the surging numbers of cybercrime occurrences as the world transitions and scales up to the evolutionary change into digitalised and internet access to everyone, police have warned.

According to the Lesotho Mounted Police Services (LMPS) Fraud Department, there has been a surge in the number of cybercrimes particularly offing in the scene of intercepted communication by undeserving third party entities on especially international internet transactions.

In an exclusive interview with Newsday this week, Sub-Inspector Pakiso Mololi from the department explained that, common cybercrimes include, hacking, social media interception, pyramid schemes, currency counterfeit and others.

He said internet users, especially social media users top the list of those who fall victim to most exploits of cybercrime, adding that in most cases, the scammers browse through online selling platforms to prey for their targets then intercept conversations between the buyer and the seller.

Mololi said most of these scammers are not based locally yet they act like they are local people, who intercept the conversations then send their own banking details with convincing messages directed at the buyer by saying they have changed their banking details due to technical problems as a way to redirect the buyer into falling to their trap.

He highlighted that social media security is not tight enough as it can be intercepted by hacking, and added that the scammers use preying tactics such as sending direct messages to their target with a website link claiming that they have won certain prizes which require clicking on some link to claim.

“As soon as the target clicks on the link, the scammers through their tactics will have access to the target’s personal details such as banking details, mails, social media accounts and contact information which may even grant them access to the unsuspecting target’s money as well as withdrawing it.

“We have also been receiving many cases of victims who have been scammed by pyramid schemes’ fraudsters including the well-known Foreign Exchange Markets and Crypto Currency Investments. And there are a lot of cases where Basotho are scammed by people who claim to be Human Resource Managers of certain companies who ask them to pay a certain fee to fast-track their application consideration,” Mololi said.

He although they receive a number of reports, investigations are delayed by the fact that sim mobile numbers have not been registered yet, also highlighting the other factor affecting cyber security investigations’ progress as the operation of the unlicensed monetary institutes in pyramid schemes. He said it is not easy to investigate a case which involves unlicensed institutions as they are not prosecutable in the courts of law.

There have been 29 cases of cybercrimes opened with the police from April 2022 to date most of which are from social media interception of buyer-seller conversation. Furthermore, it is reported that people do not verify or consult relevant authorities before buying on the internet or engaging on suspicious website links.

Mololi stated that, there are also scammers who target the local monetary institutes by faking financial withdrawal messages then claim their money from the target merchant. He said for the counterfeit scammers they have been able to make multiple arrests who were prosecuted under the Currency Counter Fake Penal Code Act of 2010.

Meanwhile, the Government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Science, Communication and Technology (MSCT) presented the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, 2022, to the National Assembly which was referred to the Senate for further deliberations and if approved, the Bill will then be taken to the King for Royal assent before to become law.

Some of the crimes defined in the bill include data espionage, cyber terrorism, cyber extortion, distributing child pornography, computer-related forgery and fraud, identity-related crimes, racist and xenophobic insults and distribution of nude images of people without their consent. Other offences include publication of false information, interception of electronic messages or money transfers, modification and interference with contents of a message.

Giving his remarks at the closure of a three-day Cybercrime Maturity Assessment workshop in May 2022, the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Minister, Sam Rapapa noted that, if the Bill is passed into law, the act will give the state powers to monitor cyberspace, define cybercrimes and prescribe penalties that include fines and lengthy prison sentences.

Rapapa added that, Lesotho is lagging behind in cyber security issues due to lack of policies and strategies, thereby exposing it to all sorts of cybercrimes. He mentioned that, the increasing migration of work to digital platforms called for protection against cyber-attacks.

A 2018 joint statement by the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL), LMPS and the Directorate for Corruption and Economic Offenses (DCEO) indicated that CBL did not give licenses to any person or institute to conduct foreign exchange trading in Lesotho, urging the public to consult CBL or report any person or institute claiming to be in the business of foreign exchange trading.

According to Section 5 of the Financial Institutions Act, 2012 along with the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act, 2008 and the Penal Code Act, 2010 it is against the law to accept people’s money without the knowledge and the consent of the CBL.

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