Hooked online and sinker

Through an online lottery website, Tashi, a school teacher in Paro, not only won a US green card but also a free air ticket to the United States.

Only a few formalities remained and Tashi, overjoyed, printed the email and showed it to his friends. A few warned him it might be a scam. "I thought it must be real," he said.

This occurred last month, indicating that as more and more Bhutanese go online they continue to be vulnerable to online scams.

The honorary consul of Bhutan to the UK, Michael Rutland, told Kuensel that he had come across "two serious cases of fraud" this year alone.

One included a Bhutanese woman who paid an $1,136 (Indian Nu 40,000) for processing a UK visa. The woman believed she had secured a job as a receptionist in a "high-class" hotel in London after responding to an online advertisement, said Rutland.

The Indian citizen, who claimed to be from the British embassy in New Delhi, then asked for $1988 (Nu 70,000) more for airfare. He told the victim that this amount would be refunded to her on the flight to the UK. Rutland said the victim was on the verge of sending this amount when she came to the honorary consul for advice.

"On investigation, the whole thing was a total fraud," he said, "Though the hotel existed, the jobs did not."

The second case involved another Bhutanese woman who believed she had secured a job as an "au pair" or domestic helper working and living with a family in the UK.

Through a social networking site, the woman had met a London based man claiming to be married and with three children.

The woman was even provided information and documentation that stated that the man was a "brain surgeon" and lived in an "up-market" area. "Enquiries showed that in fact this person was not married, had no children, was not British, and didn't live at the address he gave," said Rutland. "He was a Nigerian illegal immigrant to the UK in his late twenties."

The honorary consul added: "who knows what might have happened to this very young lady - though fortunately it is most unlikely that she would have been able to obtain a visa to go to UK."

While official records on how many Bhutanese may be falling for such online scams are not available, RBP head of special branch Lt Colonel Chimi Dorji, said that he had "heard" of many but no one had officially made a complaint.

He said that only if the "exact identification" such as a passport or telephone number of the perpetrator is obtained, the police could take action. The RBP would request assistance from INTERPOL's cyber crime unit to apprehend the perpetrator. Despite INTERPOL intervention, he pointed out that the perpetrator would never be able to be extradited to Bhutan.

Which means knowing what a scam looks like is the best way to avoid getting cheated online. "Any unsolicited email asking for money - or, as is more often the case, any email that raises your hopes of getting rich - is a scam," Rigsum institute's IT faculty member, Boaz Shmueli, said.

The most common form of scams Bhutanese come across are the "advance fee" type, according to Shmueli. Victims are lured into sending money to "materialize huge rewards," said the software engineer, who keeps abreast of local developments in the IT sphere. He said that after sending the fee, scammers would either disappear or "tempt" the victim to send more fees.

On what types of scams Bhutanese should look out for this year, Shmueli said that with more local financial institutions offering internet banking, people should be careful about "phishing". Phishing is when an email falsely claims to be from a legitimate organisation and attempts to acquire personal information, usually accompanied with a threat that the account will be closed unless such information is sent back.

"Sometimes the emails will contain a link to a fake website that looks exactly like your bank's website," said Shmueli. "Never disclose your CID (citizenship identification number), username, password, account numbers and other sensitive information."

He also pointed out that such advance fee scams existed before the Internet. "And people still fall prey to these scams, often becoming victims of their own greed."

-Kuensel Online/Asia News Network