Birthdays are special days in everyone’s life. They are usually marked with gifts to the person being celebrated.
Recently, DUBAWA observed a trend of people wishing you a happy birthday and requesting your phone number in the guise of sending a birthday gift. Whether this gift is in the form of airtime or data, we can’t say, but this will get anyone’s attention especially when it comes from friends.
The birthday token/gift hook
During my birthday last year (2021), I noticed I got several messages wishing me a happy birthday and asking for my number to send a birthday “token’’ or “gift.”
I did not take them seriously and ignored them for some reason, but receiving similar messages this year got me curious.
“Happy birthday. I wish you long life and prosperity. Send me your number. I have a gift for you,” one of the messages read.
Another account which was not on my list of friends but who had sent me a message concerning an investment sometime in June 2021 sent a similar message.
While the similarity of the messages got me suspicious, getting a letter from a schoolmate who had my number and had just chatted me up a few days before my birthday suggested something fishy.
Why would someone who has my number be asking for it again? This prompted me to reach out to this friend, who confirmed my suspicion that his account had been hacked since March 2022, two months before my birthday.
How the scheme works
Like me, other Nigerians have had one experience or another with this fraudulent scheme.
Offorka Jerry, an Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) consultant and mental health specialist, shared a similar experience.
Mr Offorka said he got a similar message from a longtime family friend who he had not been in touch with for a while.
This friend wished him a happy birthday and told him that his Personal Assistant (PA) would be reaching out to him. Shortly after this, he said the PA called requesting his account details which he sent.
Again this PA called, but this time, he was asking for the pin he received. Mr Offorka, who understood this was a One Time Password (OTP), smelled foul play, so he declined.
“As an Information Technology (IT) person, I knew that was an OTP, so they must have tried to use my number to hack into my account. So if I had sent it to them, they would have used that to empty my account,” he narrated.
Unlike me and Mr Offorka, others were not so lucky as some lost their Facebook account after providing their phone numbers and details.
“Yes, it also happened to my elder brother. Now, he no longer has a Facebook account,” Merit, a concerned sister, said.
Why your phone number is important
IT experts explain why and how these fraudsters need your phone number.
Ore Afolayan, a technology entrepreneur, said hackers and con artists are skilled at manipulating people to divulge confidential information.
With your phone number, he said they can get access to your Facebook registration details which they subsequently use to hack your Facebook account.
“Their social engineering is very good. A hacker might need your phone number to have an idea of your Facebook registration details and, with time and more conversations, know your date of birth.
“We all know how many people use birthdays as passwords. Several guesses, trials and errors; and one day, they have access to your Facebook account,” he explained.
This can also be used to gain access to your bank accounts. Mr Afolayan highlighted insufficient Know Your Customer (KYC) policies by technological companies which enable fraud activities as users can open an account with just a phone number.
KYC is a circular that mandates banks and other financial institutions to know their customer (details of who is using their platforms).
When these fraudsters open such accounts with your number, you receive an OTP, which is why they randomly ask you to send the OTP that was sent to your phone.
“Because many people are naive on social media, they ignorantly open it and boom, they have a banking account they don’t know they have,” he said.
This was the experience of Nana Abu, who recently got into trouble with a credit company for allegedly taking a loan and refusing to pay.
Unknown to her, the credit company shared a broadcast (BC) message with this allegation. Many, including her friends and colleagues received similar messages, which raised an alarm and startled her.
She subsequently clarified that her account had been hacked and was working on clarifying this issue with the company.
Mr Offorka, the ICT consultant, noted that getting access to people’s accounts and moving money is easy for fraudsters but hiding their identity is the difficult part. This is why they need your phone number to act like you and do this smoothly using an identity (yours) that cannot be traced to them.
“As an IT person, I know it is easy to defraud people, and it is easy to remove money from someone’s account, but what is hard is hiding your identity. So most times, they hack your account and act like you. If at the end of the day I was defrauded, I would be blaming this friend of mine if I am not that knowledgeable, not knowing his account was hacked.”
He also explained the reason behind the trend of hacking people’s social media accounts.
“These days, they sell social media accounts. They tell you the older it is, the more expensive it is because, the older it is, the more activities and engagement it will have and the more genuine it will look.
“You know, if a new account sends you this kind of message, you will be suspicious, but if an old account does, you won’t,” he said.
As fraudsters continue to evolve and find new ways to defraud people, it is important to be wary of messages and links shared on social networks, whether from a friend or a stranger.