Increasing numbers of Cambodians now have bank accounts, ATM cards and
internet access; the internet scammers have been quick to see
opportunities and move in for the kill
Kim Sothea Thangdy, who very nearly fell victim to an internet scam doing the rounds in Cambodia, says the experience has put her off using the internet.
KIM Sothea Thangdy, an actress and secretary, looks at the table somewhat abashed, while recounting a story she would rather not remember.
"I want to be a rich woman. I like dreaming, and I like to use my imagination. So when I received this email informing me that I had won the lottery - my dreams had come true," she said.
Kim Sothea Thangdy was very nearly the victim of a recent email lottery scam that is doing the rounds in Cambodia.
She received an email two weeks ago claiming to be from The National Lottery Company, based in the UK. It informed her that she had won US$300,000.
The 21-year-old says the email seemed very believable, so she replied with a series of questions, and though excited, kept the news of her supposed winnings a secret until she was sure.
"I was thinking, ‘It is my time. It is my time for change'," she said.
The National Lottery Company, which does not exist, replied at length to Thangdy's queries and seemed very happy she had contacted them. The scammers began an extended correspondence with her to organise payment.
She decided to tell her family and friends the good news. But her suspicions were aroused when the company began requesting highly personal information, including details about her bank account.
Kim Sothea Thangdy turned to a British friend for assistance, against the advice of other friends, who said he would try to steal her winnings. This friend said the emails were fraudulent and the supposed lottery was a scam either to steal her identity or empty her bank account.
"When [he] told me it was false, all just a horrible trick, I felt hopeless. I didn't know there were people in this world that could do this. I still don't understand."
I DIDN'T KNOW THERE WERE PEOPLE
IN THIS WORLD THAT COULD DO THIS.
Kim Sothea Thangdy is not alone. The lottery scam is one of the most common on the internet and plays easily on people's natural greed.
Only one in 1,000 people need to take the bait in order for perpetrators to make a profit.
The scam is said to have originated in Nigeria, where the official language is English and unemployment is high. Scams originating from Nigeria are famous and have been dubbed ‘419 scams', referring to a clause in Nigerian law that prohibits them.
This and similar scams became popular in 2000, though they have been around in various forms since the early 1980s.
Security organisations, including Interpol, the British Secret Service and the FBI, are now working together to combat them.
A recent report from Australia last month revealed that $36 million each year is lost to Nigerian scammers-the majority of them internet-based.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Sunday Olu Agbi expressed outrage at those who target his country for criticism, saying victims are as greedy as the perpetrators.
"The bottom line is that anything that sounds too good to be true is too good to be true," he was quoted as saying last month.
Nov Vitu, IT manager at the Khmer Web Group, said internet fraud is on the rise in Cambodia.
"Cambodia has had a rise in credit card use since 2006, and this type of development is of interest to hackers looking for an opportunity to cheat people," he said.
He said people must be careful about sharing their bank-card details and be aware of the kinds of scams that could target them.
Ek Vandy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, agreed.
"It is very difficult for us to stop this sort of thing because the problem is global, the internet is global," he said. "We can only control communications in Cambodia."
Kim Sothea Thangdy says she feels "far away" from the internet now. She did not tell the police about the scam because she thought they wouldn't care.
"I would be embarrassed to tell them, and besides, they will only say that you are wasting their time."