With the 2010 Fifa World Cup drawing closer, excitement is mounting amongst football lovers in South Africa and across the globe. Everyone seems to long for a chance to be close to the action. Meanwhile South Africa is gearing itself for an unprecedented influx of visitors during the country's winter season. Accommodation and transport facilities are expected to be stretched to capacity and most stadia are in the final stages of construction. All of this is done with the intention of staging a memorable tournament for the first time on African soil.
A recurring concern being voiced by many observers though is South Africa's readiness with regards to security issues. To this end South Africa's Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) have pledged to do everything necessary to effectively deal with the threat of violent crime during the tournament. It should be born in mind, however, that violent crimes are not the only security threat to the tournament's success. Already in the years leading up to 2010 there has been a noted upsurge in the cases of Advanced Fee Fraud or 419 scams related to the tournament. Unfortunately the technologically advanced nature of these crimes means that the SAPS and the LOC are unable to control the problem. This is because many of the syndicates committing the acts are internet-based and thus remain virtually faceless.
The year 2009 was fraught with incidences of various World Cup related scams. Among the most notorious of these was a variation of the 419 scam. The 419 scam originates in Nigeria and is essentially a confidence trick whereby the target is persuaded to pay large amounts of money in the hope of realizing an even larger return. Quite often the target of the scam is aware that the expected returns are being sourced in a dubious manner. The fact that the target proceeds with the deal in any case points to an element of greed which the scammers take advantage of. This element of greed makes it harder to track the scammers, since their victims are usually too embarrassed to admit they were hoodwinked as a result of their own greed.
This particular scam sought to swindle unsuspecting victims through a bogus ‘FIFA 2010 World Cup Lottery Draw'. The scammers also falsely used the Nelson Mandela Foundation as a supporter of the fictitious Lottery Draw. People were reportedly contacted by the scammers via an email which informed the recipient that they had won $100 000 in a ‘FIFA 2010 World Cup Lottery draw'. Following this, the con artists informed the victim that before receiving the prize they would need to pay an amount of R6 500 for lawyers' fees and stamp duty. This amount should be deposited into a Nedbank account.
Sello Hatanga, spokesman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation stated that: "This scam not only damages the Mandela brand, but also targets vulnerable people in the name of the Foundation". He added that: "People must apply extreme caution when receiving such e-mails. The Foundation`s public announcements of its association with promotions or campaigns are a good indicator of when its name was used legitimately".
Another tournament-related scam is the selling of World Cup match tickets. By the end of 2009 it was estimated that over 100 websites were selling unauthorized World Cup tickets to the public. McAfee, an online security company warned soccer lovers in late 2009 to be extremely cautious when buying tickets online. Soccer lovers are also advised to visit the FIFA.com website in order to check for authentic ticket outlets.
Another internet security company which has warned against increasing World Cup related scams is Symantec. This company has pointed out not only the dangers of fans buying counterfeit tickets online, but also the possible theft of credit card details in the process. Symantec believes that this could further fund activities of organised crime syndicates.
The threat of scams during the 2010 World Cup should not be viewed as an exclusively South African security challenge. Symantec points out that previous World Cup tournaments also experienced significantly higher levels of internet scams in the run-up to and during the event. In addition, the global nature of the internet means that syndicates and individuals involved in these crimes could be all over the world. The net thus provides a hunting ground for cyber-criminals who evade the constraints of physical borders.
As the last minute rush for accommodation, transport and tickets to the World Cup intensifies, so too will the risk of fans being ripped-off by opportunistic scammers. Whilst it is true that fully managing this problem is beyond both the LOC and the SAPS, there are a number of precautions which individuals could take to lessen the risk. A number of safety tips are currently available on websites such as FIFA.com and Shine 2010. As South Africa gears itself up for what should be a spectacular event, soccer fans and visitors should apply caution, not only when walking the streets of this country but also when surfing the net. Information has become of vital importance to all, including a new breed of criminal who seeks to obtain personal details from individuals. People should therefore thoroughly scrutinize websites, emails and other electronic media before passing on important personal data.
Written by: Mongi Henda, Intern, Organised Crime and Money Laundering, ISS Cape Town