By Georges Budagu Makoko
Yibutse gukinga bukeye
“Some people remember to lock their doors only when the night has already passed.”
Unfortunately, numerous people from the immigrant community here in Maine have reported experiencing the loss of thousands of dollars at the hands of virtual attackers.
Because of advances in technology, the era of securing our houses with locks and deadbolts, and believing that we are protected against theft, has passed. Advanced technology has exposed us to a whole new world of virtual theft. Hackers and scammers from all over the world increasingly threaten our safety. Although it is hard to imagine, people sitting in the comfort of their own houses here in Maine, are vulnerable to malicious theft orchestrated by individuals thousands of miles away. Our smart devices, including phones and computers, have brought into our lives an impressive feeling of connection and leisure, but without technological savvy, the risks of being hacked are extremely high.
I reached out to Lucie Narukundo, who was attacked through her WhatsApp account, and lost money. “It all happened very quickly, and I realized that I had lost access to my own WhatsApp account. I was in the middle of preparing for my daughter’s wedding, and the hackers seriously interrupted my ability to communicate throughout the important period of my daughter’s wedding, and collected thousands of dollars from my contact list. They impersonated me by using my name and reaching out to different people on my contact list. They got money out of them when people thought that I was in trouble. They were trying to help me,” she said.
For more background on this growing problem of virtual theft, I consulted with Andre Birenzi, Senior Director of Enterprise Systems at Bowdoin College’s Information Technology (IT) Department and co-founder of IWACU Technologies LLC consulting business. He explained that he knows many people in the community who have experienced hacking through their WhatsApp accounts. The hackers use tools such as the WhatsApp Tracker to access a victim’s contact list.
Birenzi said immigrant communities are the most vulnerable because of the language barrier and because of the high level of computer literacy needed to spot hacking. According to him, many people tend to trust every link they receive through their cell phone, so they aren’t looking for links that might have been sent by a hacker. When they click on a bad link, they hand over access to their private accounts without realizing it.
The hackers immediately start contacting their victim’s family, friends, and associates, and soliciting them for funds. The fact that many WhatsApp accounts are not protected by two-factor authorization makes them very vulnerable. Birenzi challenges people to learn how to secure their devices. Our financial health depends on it. He suggests finding trustworthy community members to help, or looking at YouTube video tutorials about protecting yourself from hackers.
Through his work over the last decade, Birenzi has seen for himself that the elderly and immigrants are the principal victims of scams. He suggests that before more innocent victims are hurt, community leaders, pastors, educators, and social service providers should help those who are most vulnerable to protect themselves against malicious hackers. Newcomers need to incorporate technology literacy into their lives.
For more on scams and fraud, consult Amjambo’s ongoing series on Fraud and Scams, which covers immigration scams, employment scams, and more. The series is available in print and online at amjamboafrica.com.