It’s been a while since I warned about scams. Some of the scams are unbelievably crude, especially text messages with atrocious grammar and spelling. Yet they are all dangerous in that there are so many gullible people who can fall prey to them.
My update is actually optimistic because I do see signs that we’re becoming “scam-wise.”
Some of the scams are old ones, particularly the “dugo-dugo” (literally, blood-blood) that involves someone calling your house when you’re out and convincing your domestic helper that a member of the family had to be rushed to hospital and that the helper should ransack the house, get whatever cash, jewelry and other valuables that are available, and meet the caller somewhere.
Because this scam has received so much publicity, many house helpers disregard the calls. But a few weeks ago, one of my neighbors came close to becoming a victim. The helper was able to get as far as the subdivision gate, where a security guard was sufficiently alert to notice that she was bringing out a large bag.
The criminal syndicate was, by then, in touch with the helper through her cell phone to give additional instructions. So the security guard took over and talked with the man at the other end of the line.
The guard recounted that the caller spoke rapidly. “Nakaka-hypnotize” was how the guard described the effect of the conversation, which is part of these gangs’ modus operandi. It actually got to a point where the caller was practically admitting that it was all a scam because it now included threats of killing the guard.
Even then, because a “dugo-dugo” caller talks so much, the receiver has no time to process what’s going on. Psychologists call this a cognitive overload, where one can no longer think logically—still suspicious about the call but also worried that maybe one’s employer or relative truly needs help.
The attempted scam was aborted, but after the incident, the guard, the helper and, most importantly, the employer, could now process what had happened, together with the all-important question: How did the syndicate get the house phone number and the name of the employer?
We know now from years of these syndicates’ operations that they get information from gossip. They hang around near your residence or office and strike up conversations with your drivers or helpers, sometimes even the security guards.
Now, a new fad might become another source of information for the syndicates. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a growing number of vehicles that have these stickers with figures to represent members of a family: adults, kids, even pets. I thought they were charming and ordered a set with names, even picking out figures that almost seemed to have been cut out for my kids (for example, “Kuya” on a skateboard). Even the dog looked like “Dr. Tissot,” our 100-percent Asong Pinoy.
I got home and put the stickers on the car, excited over my surprise for the kids. But when my son saw what I was doing, he frowned and said: “Dada, you’re giving information away to ‘dugo-dugo’ gangs.”
He was right. I had the names removed from the stickers.
In retrospect, I’ve been thinking that maybe more generic labels like “Tatay,” “Nanay,” or “Ate” can be used. But even there I’d be apprehensive because these criminals look for cues they can use. Simply calling in and telling the helper that “Ate (elder sister) is in the hospital” gives them a foot in the door, a way to start their conversation.
I was not only proud of my son’s being scam-wise but also disturbed that he was learning, so early, about the dark side of humanity. He is, after all, only 10, but then I remembered a lecture about jeepneys that I delivered some years back to my daughter’s preschool class. When I asked the kids to describe what struck them about our jeepneys, one of the kids, who could not have been more than four years old, said that many jeeps have names of the owner’s children, but quickly added that this was dangerous because “bad men might kidnap the children.” A sad reflection of our times.
I’m hoping kids today will be quicker to detect a scam, but I find that this is also a generation that can be gullible when it comes to “legal” scams—the marketing campaigns and advertising gimmicks that surround us. The kids are learning, sometimes the hard way, that the ads use photos and come-ons that are not always truthful.
They’re also learning that the more aggressive a salesperson, the more careful they should be. I explain that these sales people are exactly like the “dugo-dugo” callers: They keep talking, complimenting you on your good taste, on how the product is a “bestseller,” a good buy, and so forth and so on.
Even as I work on the kids, I worry about my elderly relatives. My father is always telling me about text messages asking him to call a certain number. One popular “modus” (the local term for scams) is to tell you, “This is my new number,” but without giving a name. You’re tempted to text back: “Hu dis (Who is this)?” and they call in and then give you the routine: “Don’t you remember me? I know your anak (child)…” and then find a way to meet up where they can try to swindle you.
Lately I’ve been inundated with text scams on my Smart phone, sent almost daily, telling me I’m behind with my bills and that my case has been referred to them, supposedly a law firm. What disturbs me is that they have my phone number and the correct account number, which means these could be inside jobs. Calling Smart!
I’m sure we’ll see more scams being concocted for cell phones. Just the other day I got a really strange text in Filipino, with bad spelling. It’s a long message but I’m reproducing most of it for its full flavor. (Sorry, providing an English translation would mean this column won’t fit into the allotted space.)
Here it is: Magandang arao po sa inyo sori po sa abala ako pala si Richard taga Mindanao tomawag ako sa inyo dahel gosto sana naming magpatolong sa enyo kase po ang Lolo ko nakahokay ng ginto sa kweba anim na bars. Wag po kayo mabegla yong namber nyo ay binegay ng diwata sa panagenep ni Lolo habang siyay natotolog sa pono nang malaking balit sa gubat. Sabe ng diwata wag kayo mag alala dahel mabaet na tao yan at matolongin. Yan po ang sabi ng diwata sana po totoo ang sabi ng diwata.
What can I say, Richard? If you were doing this for a psychology or anthropology term paper, I’d give you the highest score with your understanding of Filipino culture and our psyche, from a penchant for lost treasure, to the need to be “mabait.”
What can I say, Inquirer readers? I’d be curious if you’ve received similar diwata-inspired texts.
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