The Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa, Maiava Atalina Ainuu-Enari, has yet again warned members of the public to be vigilant to protect themselves against scams and the work of con artists.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer yesterday, she reminded that scammers are imaginative, manipulative and are not afraid to lie their way into conning innocent victims.
Maiava confirmed that there have been many cases in Samoa where people have been fooled.
One such case involved a Samoan woman who thought she had found love online.
“She had been in contact with the scammer (via email, Facebook and on the phone) for quite some time,” she said. “Finally, he convinced her to remit AUD$17,000 as payment for costs and fees so that he could come and meet her in person.
“She processed two money transfers of AUD$8,500 each.
“He never showed up and finally, she realized that this was a scam, yet she spent all that money.”
But scammers don’t just target individuals.
“A bank recently received instructions via email from a local company to remit funds overseas as payment for construction supplies.
“An invoice and an authorisation letter signed by the authorised signatories of the company were provided to support the payment.
“The bank processed the payment, but later discovered that the supporting documents were fake.”
But it was too late.
“The bank tried to recall funds from the correspondent and beneficiary bank, but unfortunately, the scammer got hold of these funds beforehand and the company lost thousands.”
In another case, the customer of a local bank had SAT$19,500 taken from her account.
“She enquired with the bank for an explanation on her missing funds. The bank conducted its own investigation and discovered that 13 transactions of SAT$1,500 each were debited from the customer’s account and credited into five different account holders of the same bank.
“These five account holders were interviewed by the bank and had been in contact with the scammer, either via Facebook or by phone.
“They were told to expect money in their accounts. All they had to do was to keep 10 percent as commission and remit the remaining balance to a given destination, using a money transfer operator.”
According to Maiava, scams come in all shapes and forms.
“Scams do not always involve large amounts of money. There are lotteries, sweepstakes, promotions and competitions.
“Also with banking, credit cards and online accounts, as well as money transfer requests -- internet spams, malicious software, internet shopping, business supplies, dating and romance, jobs and employment.”
The Governor pointed out that common sense should be applied when in doubt.
“You didn’t pay for a lottery ticket yet all of the sudden you have won the lottery and you have to pay a certain percentage to get your full lottery win... it just does not make sense.”
Maiava added that scams do not discriminate.
“The perpetrators are professionals and they demand urgency and confidentiality. Just remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”
Another recent case involved the lottery.
“The victim received a winning lotto notification from a company in the U.K. She was advised (by the scammer) to pay all fees and charges, in advance, in order to process her winning.
“She even had to borrow from the bank to settle endless fees. After paying so many fees, she received a partial payment check of US$20,000.
“She presented the cheque to the bank for clearance and encashment. Later on, she was told that the cheque was a fake.”
There are also people selling different types of scams. Recently, two individuals, who claimed to be representatives of an international investment company, came to Samoa and conducted promotions on a digital currency product.
“They presented their investment proposal to different organisations and village communities,” Maiava explained.
“Innocent investors were attracted to their investment plan -- that is, invest money and within a very short period of time, earn ten times more in return. As such, people invested their money in the scheme.
“Later on, it was proven that the scheme was too good to be true and these two individuals are now serving time at Tafa'igata Prison.”
Maiava said scam artists are always on the look out for ways to fool unsuspecting members of the public.
“We have been working with the local banks and money transfer operators to look for signs of a scam when people come in to send money to off-island accounts.
“The bank tellers, who are the frontliners, are the ones who should know almost immediately their customers are sending money to scammers, by asking questions.
“Sometimes our people are stubborn and despite advice against sending the money, they tell the tellers that it’s their money and they will do what they want with it.
“Sure enough, a week later they come back and by the time we get in to it, we find out the off-island account has been dissolved. That is why our people need to be vigilant and apply common sense, especially when sending money off island.”
Lastly, Governor Maiava said no one is immune -- even highly intelligent people.
A recent case involved a lawyer.
“Please, if you are unsure, come into our office we are more than happy to look into the matter for you to make sure this is not a scam,” she said. “This is one task that our office is keen on, to reduce the amount of people falling into scams especially from online and overseas.”