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Citizens warned: African scammers targetting locals

Friday, March 14, 2014
Joy Marchan shows the text she message she received yesterday notifying her to collect and cash a cheque at Central Bank, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: MICHEAL BRUCE

Members of the public are being advised not to disclose any personal information over the phone to strangers. The warning comes after several text messages, claiming to be from the Central Bank and the Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT) ,told local recipients they had won prizes and money and to seek to collect them. However, the texts proved to be a ploy by foreign-based scammers conning unsuspecting people out of their money. In the case of the Central Bank, people across Trinidad yesterday complained they received several texts claiming they had won $50,000 and telling them to visit the bank for further information and to receive the money. 


The phone numbers are ten digits long and from various area codes. However, attempts to contact and text the numbers proved futile. Nevertheless, people yesterday visited the bank at Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, hoping the messages were genuine. The T&T Guardian learned that the Central Bank was bombarded with over 200 calls and visits by midday yesterday from people claiming to have won the money. Some were visibly upset and argued with members of staff after learning it was a hoax, complaining they spent “real money calling them back.”
The T&T Guardian later learned that after complaints from citizens, TSTT quickly put a block on the numbers and traced the calls and texts and discovered they were coming from Somalia in Africa and being routed from T&T.


Some of the messages said

• “Winner call now free and receive your new car or it will be cancelled or transferred to another winner.”
•“Urgent appeal get your car from the director of telemarketing of T&T.” 
• “Central Bank of T&T you are invited to receive your check of $50,000. Call and learn about the place of receipt.”


Central Bank: We don’t give out cash
In an interview yesterday at the Central Bank, corporate communications manager Charlene Ramdhanie said the bank was investigating the hoax. “We have been in touch with law enforcement officers and we are also conducting investigations because the bank does not give out money,” she said. Ramdhanie strongly advised members of the public not to give out any information over the phone. The T&T Guardian was informed that some of the texts or callers were asked for their name, address, how many children they had and their bank account number and e-mail address. The Central Bank reiterated that it did not give out money, adding competitions held by the bank give out units from Unit Trust and not cash.



One of the recipients, Joy Marchan, said her daughter, a Standard Five student, received several of the messages on her phone yesterday morning. When asked about the text, Chelsea Haynes, who is an aspiring lawyer, said she did not believe the messages at first. “I did not believe it but I said we will buy all that we want to get because the government gives us nothing and everything will be ok,” she said. Another of the recipients, who visited the Central Bank early yesterday, said she was told they would contact her in three months.
“I left Chaguanas to come here. At first I did not believe it but decided to see if it was true. I don’t know why people would do that,” she said.


Ignore bogus overseas texts too
TSTT says mobile service customers have also received text messages urging them to call an international number that starts with the digits "002522973" or just "2522973." However, calls to the numbers result in charges being credited for international calls. In a media release yesterday, TSTT said the messages were not from the organisation and told customers to disregard text messages from numbers with which they were not familiar. “These messages originate from an international source and returning calls to them can result in customers incurring significant costs which are to be paid to an overseas carrier. “Customers should therefore treat these messages as hoax offers. The company is monitoring activities associated with the text messages and will take all reasonable action to safeguard the interests of customers," the release said.


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