CARICOM leaders almost fooled by WhatsApp scammer


CARICOM leaders almost fooled by WhatsApp scammer

BELIZE CITY, Thursday. May 26, 2022

While some Whatsapp users have learned to spot the telltale signs of an aspiring WhatsApp scam, others have lost funds after being tricked into transferring money to the accounts of people who told them they had won or inherited large sums. money, and just need to facilitate a transfer by depositing money into a foreign account. What was reported this week, however, is an attempted WhatsApp scam that targeted not the average app user, but leaders in the Caribbean region – thus putting, not personal funds, but resources of nation states at risk. The orchestrators of this particular scam apparently gained access to the WhatsApp contact details of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and using his account identity, attempted to convince several CARICOM heads of government to send “deposits substantial” in a Chinese bank account as a prerequisite for receiving a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They could have got away with substantial funds, and possibly important financial data, had it not been for the suspicions of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley, who began observing certain aspects of the correspondence of the scammers who seemed unusual. . He quickly contacted Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño, who reportedly was first contacted by the scammers and passed the information on to three heads of state.

Questioned by reporters yesterday, however, the Hon. Briceño said he was first contacted by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley. “Prime Minister Mottley called me on Friday and she said, ‘You’re going to get a message from the Secretary General on the UN that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has said they want to help 3 countries, that they’re setting aside 15 million dollars to helpsaid Prime Minister Briceño during a press briefing yesterday.

According to Prime Minister Briceño, he was contacted through a WhatsApp account which bore the WhatsApp number and name of Secretary General Guterres, and he noted that the person on the other end had requested that they use WhatsApp as a means of communication. , because it is encrypted. . The Prime Minister went on to say that he then contacted CARICOM Secretary General Dr Carla Barnett and a few others and after discussions they came to an agreement that Saint Lucia, Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago would be the three countries to receive the funds. The phone numbers of the heads of state of these three nations were then passed on to the scammers.

There is no indication how far the scammers went in their plot when corresponding with the other two Caribbean nations, but Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley after returning from a CARICOM meeting Sunday, happily announced at a press conference that “TT has been ‘fortunate to be identified’ as the recipient of a ‘substantial grant from the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation to distribute among us as part of its ongoing anti-poverty program. He said he was informed by Prime Minister Briceño, President of CARICOM, that “the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations wanted to achieve [him]and a few other CARICOM Heads of Government to discuss the grant.

However, shortly after learning that Trinidad and Tobago would be a recipient of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated to the country twice in the past, he attempted to make an audio call on the WhatsApp account bearing General Secretary Guterres WhatsApp number and photo, but received no voice response. The person seemed willing to communicate by text only and, according to Prime Minister Rowley, “tried to encourage” him to use a foreign bank to receive this grant, but there would be significant processing fees.

At that point, particularly after the person requested that a deposit be made into a Chinese bank account, Prime Minister Rowley became convinced that the so-called grant was a hoax.

“My suspicions were further aroused when the person on the other end tried to steer me towards a substantial deposit in a Chinese bank as a precondition for obtaining the grant. Having requested and received no paperwork and having been contacted in a familiarity not normally associated with the Office of the SG, I was now convinced that this was a most brazen scam executed in the manner shocking described,” Prime Minister Rowley said.

He contacted Prime Minister Briceño, who sent him the series of messages that had been exchanged between him and the person claiming to be the UN Secretary General, following which the Hon. Briceño realized that he had never spoken via audio call with the person on the other end. “HHe messaged me and then I said ‘you know what, I haven’t spoken to the person’. We were just messages. I immediately said “I think it’s a scam”,said Prime Minister Briceño.

Everything indicates that no CARICOM country has sent funds or information to WhatsApp scammers. This recent attempt by cybercriminals brings to the fore the region’s need to upgrade safeguards against such threats.

Reflecting on what happened, Prime Minister Briceño said: “it looks like they captured her WhatsApp and I think it’s happened to people here in Belize.

It should be noted, however, that the United Nations has announced that public officials have been banned from using WhatsApp since June 2019 due to security concerns. In January 2020, a UN spokesperson told Reuters that WhatsApp communication was “not supported as a secure mechanism”. As a result, senior UN officials were instructed not to use it.

When asked if the UN secretary-general communicates with the Saudi crown prince and other world leaders using WhatsApp, he replied, “I don’t think the secretary-general uses it.”

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