I recently got a call on the BlackBerry number informing me that I had won a million rupees in a lucky draw conducted by Mobilink and that I should call back on the same number to claim the prize.
Mobilink actually does have such a scheme for their Jazz customers, but the fact that my package doesn’t fall into that category and the manner in which I received the call aroused my suspicions. Why would Mobilink be calling me from another, recently released mobile number instead of through a call center? And why should I have to call them back to claim my prize? Why did the person on the other end sound more like a kabaddi wrestler than a customer support rep?
A search for mobilink cash prize revealed a number of stories on such scams, like this one by The News and this blog post by The Pakistani Spectator. The usual tactic is to get as much of the victim’s details as they can and then ask for pre-paid scratch card numbers or a small amount to facilitate the transfer of the cash prize. That’s a lot like the Nigerian 419 fraud emails we receive every day, but with a more local and personal touch.
Convinced that it really is a way to swindle money out of people, I thought I’d have a little fun and see where things would lead, so I called them back. The first attempt resulted in a busy signal (they could have fixed this part to make it more believable). The second call connected me to a new person who put me on hold with the real Mobilink jingle being played.
After I had listened to the full ad, another person came on the phone and greeted me in broken English with something along the lines of “Mobilink customer support. How I may you help today?”. I pretended not to understand English and he simply guessed that I was calling about the prize.
Another warning sign with such scams is that they emphasize on the urgency of the matter. That’s what this guy did by telling me how late I was in calling back and how I should quickly contact their “MD sahib” (the actual prizes can be claimed within 30 days). While giving me the MD’s contact, he tried making casual chit-chat about what my name was and what I did, but I finished the conversation without revealing anything useful.
After calling the new number, another person with a similar accent answered and put me on hold again with the Mobilink tune playing. This call was cut off and I didn’t want to waste more time on this so just let it be. However, the earlier person called me after a few hours and asked if I had talked to their Managing Director. I said that the number got cut off, but that I’d be willing to pick up the prize in person from any Mobilink office.
This put the goon on the back-foot and he asked again where I was calling from. When I said Islamabad/Rawalpindi, he said that I would have to go all the way to the Mobilink head office in Karachi and that it’ll be more convenient to just talk to their managing director and get it finalized over the phone. After the call, I was tempted to call them again in a few hours and tell them that I had taken a flight to Karachi (who wouldn’t do that, given the money involved?), but then decided that it was enough fun for the day.
A lot of people regularly fall for these kinds of scams so be wary and don’t get suckered into losing even a penny to them. If you really have won something, you’ll know about it through more reliable means. If there’s anyone who I can help in catching these guys, please get in touch.