You’ve won SR200,000 from STC Sawa

Give up your national ID to link with you mobile number and you lose. Image Credit: Paul Michael Hughes.

The best scams are the ones that seem so plausible. The scammers have certain information they know to be correct and they combine those details with falsehoods to produce an automatic response from people. No one is immune to scams. In fact many studies have shown that if you think you are too smart to be scammed, that is a weakness that criminals can exploit.

On Saturday at 10:11 in the morning I received a call from mobile number 0551784186. The man on the line said that he was from STC Sawa Company.

“It is your lucky day,” he said. “I am happy to tell you that you have just won SR200,000. Please write this number down so that you can confirm that you are a winner – 8996601. Just remove your SIM from your phone and check the back to confirm that this is the right number. Then call me back and I will tell you how to claim your prize.”

“Oh thank you so much!” I replied. “Could you repeat the number again?” I dutifully noted it down. “I will check and call you back.” and I closed the line.

“Oh wow,” was my initial reaction. “I won.” I did check the back of my SIM card and there it was – 8996601. Then of course the sane side of my brain kicked in and started nagging. “You poor, pitiful creature, this is surely a scam. Go check.”

So dutifully I sat down in front of my computer, went off to cyberspace and started searching for the scam. I have to mention though that I wasn’t happy. That tiny, little euphoric part of m y brain still wished that I had won.

It took me five minutes to find possible evidence of the scam online. Then I called the number back.

“Hello, I have seen that the number on the back of the SIM card is correct, but I think this could still be some sort of scam. Would you please get your supervisor to call me back?” I asked. The man agreed and said that his supervisor would call back shortly. Ten minutes later, I received a call. “Hello,” said the man. “I am calling from STC Sawa. You wanted to speak to a supervisor?”

“Oh yes,” I replied, “but I want you to call me from an STC landline so I’m sure that this isn’t a scam. You are calling me from a mobile – 0507164352. Would you call back from a land line?” He assured me that he would call me back in a few minutes, but he never did.”

There are a few key points to alert anyone that this is a scam. First, there is no such legal entity as STC Sawa Company. Next, please know that on the back of each mobile SIM card issued by Saudi Telecom there is the ICC ID. Every one of these numbers starts 8996601. Additionally, a few online message boards have commentary from individuals who have been contacted by the scammers.

Now for the shameful part. STC hasn’t put out an alert on possible fraud since July 27, 2013. There isn’t any message about it on the homepage. There isn’t an online form or number to call to tell STC about this criminal activity. In the company’s announcement last year, it was mentioned that individuals who receive such messages should send a report via a text message to 800825 showing the calling number and it will be handled and tracked by the concerned authorities.

I didn’t do that. I didn’t know what information was required and I didn’t know who would receive my message. I was also worried that if I sent a text message maybe there’d be some confusion and somehow my own telephone number would be shut down. What I really wanted was an STC fraud hotline to call – and there isn’t one.

The worst thing too, is that Tuesday I called 0551784186, the original phone number involved in the fraud, and a man answered. He spoke Hindi but understood English well. I pretended that I had received a message on my voicemail. I asked for some one who spoke English. Two minutes later there was a callback from the same number and an English speaking man told me to check the number 8996601 on the back of my SIM card and call back. I pretended to do so and called back. I was told to wait just ten minutes and someone would call me to tell me how to collect theSR200,000.

I did receive the callback from a new number – 0502176626. The voice on the phone advised me that yes I was a lucky winner and I would be sent by SMS the 6-digit code that would allow me to claim my prize. The criminals kept trying to send me the code. Three times they sent messages but each time only one digit arrived in the message – not six. Oh dear! How would I ever claim the money without the six-digit code! Finally after I called back very upset, the criminal did me a favor and gave me my file number – 7382164957. Then there were some instructions about going to the cash counter at Al Rajhi Bank to claim my prize money. After that he said that if I gave him my iqama number he would give me the password over the phone. I pretended to start crying and told him to just send me the passcode and only then would I give my iqama number.

At that point it was four days since the criminals had contacted me for the first time. The original number they’d used was still live and the fraud was still underway. How many people they’ve victimized it’s impossible to know. If a person provides the national identification number to get the 6-digit code, then the criminals have the mobile telephone number and ID number link. A frightening amount of illegal activity can then take place.

This is a 999 call to the authorities and telecoms to step up the programs fighting such fraud. Awareness will go a long way to protecting the public. Imprisoning these criminals and publicizing their jail sentences will be a further deterrent.





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