Technological Scams: Be on the Alert

by EL TOQUE

Cubans with their cellphones Photo: Jenny Sanchez

HAVANA TIMES — The police station in the city of Trinidad has received at least one complaint every day over the past week about scams via fraudulent phone calls which encourage customers from Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETESCA) to supply top-up cards for mobile phones to alleged “parcel delivery agents”.

When you pick up a call from the number +53995882359199, the *99 option allows the caller to receive that individual’s personal information such as name, surname and personal address. They say that they are on their way to deliver them a parcel sent from the United States but that their car has broken down and they need a top-up in order to finish their job.

Journalist Luis Orlando Leon from Trinidad was one of the many who received this phone call. This happened to the 28-year-old on April 8th and he recounted his experience on his Facebook page.

“Let’s just assume everyone’s eyes light up when they’re told that they’ve been sent a package from abroad. It’s a master stroke. Luckily for me, I had heard several accounts of this the day beforehand, by chance, and I knew to take action quickly.”

The trick of earning your trust by using personal information which scammers give you can make anyone unaware fall for it, without realizing that they have been taken from ETECSA’s own database which has been leaked and made available to ordinary Cubans via apps which allow you to see them in more dynamic ways.

“It might seem like a simple game,” the young man adds, “but with this “flair”, I know people who have spent up to 20 CUC or even more on telephone top-up cards. Debating with one of my friends whether it was true or not, she transferred 1 CUC, that’s it. In the end, the number of the person calling doesn’t appear anywhere.”

Orlando has learned of similar cases not only in Trinidad, but in places like Cienfuegos and Santa Clara too. That’s why he decided to go to the ETECSA phone office himself to make a complaint. Once there, he was told that the customer protection office at the State’s telecommunications monopoly was in the provincial capital (70 km away) but that it would be better to go to the police because it’s been going on for two years and ETECSA only gives information to the Ministry of Interior (MININT). His phone number was taken again at the police station and he was told that they would look into it.

Referencing similar cases of phone scams, another young Cuban, Arassay Rodriguez, told us that her uncle transferred a few CUC to a supposed acquaintance who had had an accident on a highway in Ciego de Avila and needed to make an emergency call to the hospital, but he didn’t have any credit. The identifier showed that the call was indeed coming from this province, but when they dialed the number it didn’t exist and the cell phone they had made a transfer to belonged to a woman who hadn’t received anything.

Lilian Leon, a receptionist at La Ronda Hotel, in the heart of Trinidad city, told us that she received a call from a man a few days ago, claiming to be the assistant director of the Las Cuevas hotel resort. His car had apparently broken down and he needed to take his son to university to hand in a last minute project.

“He asked me to send him four Internet cards. I found it such a strange request that I told him to call back later to find out what to do. And he didn’t call back. Then I found out that another receptionist had bought his story and that the real assistant director of Las Cuevas sent a message saying that someone was pretending to be him.”

Tech-related crimes are beginning to increase in Cuba. The most recurrent one recently has to do with stealing credit from permanent Internet (Nauta) accounts. Problems with security certificates on the Internet gateway managed by ETECSA has allowed criminals to create a fake gateway and steal passwords. Stealing IP addresses from the company’s WIFI machines is another way to scam people.

In the Internet browsing contract, the company encourages users to only use its own services in order to connect to the Internet securely and to avoid these kinds of situations and it exonerates itself of any responsibility in the case a third party interferes, the well-known connection resellers using “Connectify”. However, the absence of enough preparation for safe browsing of the Internet among users in Cuba is noticeable and it leads to many people not knowing the basics of protecting themselves against cyber-attacks.

User vulnerability is reinforced given the fact that Cuba doesn’t have a Telecommunications law that ensures punishment for those involved in these kinds of scams.  In a feature about similar cases in Cienfuegos, engineer Alvin Cordero Hernandez clarifies that “The Penal Code (…) doesn’t include crimes relating to technology and communications, nothing is written, and it all falls under illegal economic activity, which is a bag everything fits into.”

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