I have always been extra vigilant when I receive unsolicited emails, phone calls, etc. So, to almost fall victim to one recently, reminded me that no matter how solid my vigilance is, a moment of lowering my guard can cost me greatly. Here’s what transpired.

The call from the phone scammer

Last Thursday, I was driving home from work when I received a phone call. As it was without the country code at the front of the mobile number, I picked up. 

For those who do not know, if you receive a call from a local mobile number that starts with the country code, it is usually a scam call.

The caller addressed me by my Chinese name, which is normally used by close friends of mine. So, that caused my first layer of defence to drop. He said that his mobile phone was stolen at his shop and that he had to change his number to the current one. He then asked me to update this new number into my contact list.

All this while I had no idea who he was. So, to update his contact, I would need his name. So, I asked. He replied along the line of, “It is just a number change and you can’t recognise my voice?” That’s when I said the name of a friend who sounded like him, which he said yes.

This was the end of day one.

Come day two, I received a call from him again. He asked if I knew how to redirect his Internet banking’s OTP, which was sent to his old mobile number, to his new number. I said that I was clueless but he should try customer service, which he said okay.

After a few minutes, he called back again saying that it was not possible to reset it. I sent him a screenshot that I found online to show him how he could at least update his mobile details, which he said that he would try.

Ten minutes later, he called back saying that the step I showed him triggered an email to reset his account. The problem was it required him to guess his secret question. I told him that it was best that he heads down to any of the bank’s branches to get it sorted.

This was when he delivered his ask.

He said that he could not do it that day due to meetings and that he needed to pay his contractor urgently. When asked if his family members could help, he said that they did not know how to use Internet banking. Still thinking that he was my friend, I asked whether he could get his wife to help, which was a no as she was already financing their apartment.

At this point, I could already smell his drift. He wanted a loan. He said that if I could transfer him some money that day to tide through, he would pay me back the following day. The amount was $2,900. 

One thing you all should know about me is that it is easier to rinse water out of a rock than get a loan from me. But somehow I let my guard down and said that I would need to check my bank account if I had accessible cash. We ended the call with the promise that I call him back after I had confirmed that I could make the loan.

As soon as we hung up the phone, I deliberated. Three things came to my mind:

  1. Should I lend him the full sum or just $500 bucks?
  2. What if he isn’t who I think he is?
  3. Should I verify my friend’s identity by messaging his old number?

I chose option 3 and I am grateful for this move as I received a reply. 

My real friend confirmed that he did not lose his phone and that he encountered the same scam too. I was relieved and livid at the same time, thinking about the many ways to skin this person alive when he calls back. But I let it go. I ignored his next call and reported/blocked the number.

I am sharing this story of mine because the entire scam felt so genuine to me and if I had not thought about the third option, I could have lost my hard earned money.

What you should do when encountering a suspicious call or email

The moral of the story is to always ALWAYS verify the identity of your caller even though they might sound familiar. Do not offer any information voluntarily. Let them give the information to you instead.

If you have encountered similar experiences, do share it with us. 

Mark Ko

Mark Ko

Besides tech, I love chicken rice. Point me in the right direction and I'll go and try it. :)
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