ISLAMABAD: With fast-paced advances in the telecom industry, fraudulent schemes advertised through cell phones are becoming increasingly commonplace.
Swindlers have now come up with a plan to fleece innocent people using the Benazir Income Support Programme, which was launched to provide relief to people living below the poverty line, as a ploy.
Text messages are sent through unregistered SIM cards in which people are told that they have been selected for financial aid under the BISP. One such SMS reads:
“BENAZIR INCOM: sport program ghr ghr swary k teht apko 25000 mubark ho. Apna number or id card is number (a cell number other than the one from which the text was sent) pr send krain yaa cal kraen [sic].”
“Yes, I am calling from the BISP head office in Karachi,” was the reply of a lady who responded to the call made to the provided number. Asking the caller to collect the money as soon as possible, she said the money would be confiscated by the government otherwise.
She then proceeded to give another cell phone number of her colleague ‘Mr Irfan’ saying that he would let the beneficiary know when he/she can collect the money.
When contacted, Irfan asked the caller to go to a nearby Easypaisa shop, where some cellular companies provide financial transaction facilities. Irfan then instructed the caller to deposit an advance of Rs1,000 with the Easypaisa operator without disclosing his identity. The justification Irfan gave for this was that Rs999 is deducted as tax from the Rs25,000 if the beneficiary informs the operator that he is here to collect money under the BISP.
To the operator, however, the con artist introduces himself as a relative of the person he is planning to fleece. Upon query, he reveals that he is a resident of Multan and asks the operator to take the Rs1,000 and deposit it in his (Irfan’s) account.
The poor, blinded by their apparently good fortune, are often lured by the incentive of getting their hands on easy cash, and BISP officials in turn seem helpless.
A BISP official requesting anonymity admitted: “Yes, we have received such complaints.”
Regarding actions taken to contain such frauds, he said “we have registered complaints with the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA).” He added that PTA had blocked some of the numbers and were trying to track the perpetrators down.
The BISP official said authorities were, by and large, helpless against the criminals as most of the cell numbers were not registered. “We have also issued press releases to highlight the occurrence of such incidents.”
PTA spokesperson Muhammad Younis, however, says that “no such complaint has come to my knowledge,” adding that the authority’s complaint cell would be in a better position to deliberate over the matter.
An official from the complaint cell acknowledged that such complaints were received and said “we have apprised the BISP via a letter.” Regarding the nabbing of the offenders, he said “it is the responsibility of the police.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.