Tech is the con artists’ new magic wand

The world’s favorite binge-watching portal, Netflix, has simultaneously captivated and shocked the world with stories of The Tinder scammer. The documentary features the victims of a con man named Simon Leviev, born Shimon Hayut, who lured them through a dating app, Tinder, into dreams of romance and a lavish lifestyle.

His linked Instagram account showed him leading a glamorous, stylish and globe-trotting lifestyle. His arsenal of love bombing included red roses, taking women to exotic places on a private jet, endless sushi, and using messaging apps for an “I love you” bombardment.

I would spend time and money to create a romantic attachment or friendship and a promise of lifelong devotion. Eventually, he staged a traumatic event and claimed that he urgently needs money to get away from his alleged enemies who are linked to the diamond industry in which he was allegedly involved through family connections.

He would then use drama, pressure and manipulation to force women to send him money and give him access to credit cards and loans. According to Netflix, she gained access to $10 million through this romance scam from 2017 to 2019. She spent just five months in jail for her crimes and again posts her lavish lifestyle on social media. Tinder confirmed that he and his alias accounts have been banned from the app.

real life netflix

He’s not alone, according to the FBI, Americans lost $1 billion in 2021 to romance scammers and scammers targeting women over 40, as well as the elderly and disabled. They predominantly use technology for their scams, often without meeting their victims in person, or only during brief initial first dates, which later moved to messaging apps.

This romance lasts on average between six and eight months. Eventually, the pleas for money would begin, based on some fictitious crisis or urgency, very often to free a gift for the victim from customs. Then the scammer would be gone, disconnected from the very technology that fueled the romance or “locking out” the victim, the passive-aggressive response of our time.

Stay away from “rom-cons” to corporate scammers, elizabeth holmes, founder of the now-defunct biotech company Theranos, showed that companies and investors can be scammed, too. He used the fear of missing out on the next tech unicorn (a new private company valued at $1 billion or more) in Silicon Valley and the need for more efficient and (relatively) painless blood tests as the focus of his fraud. activities.

Her reign also capitalized on the feverish search for an extremely successful female-led tech startup. He started Theranos when he was 19 and dropped out of college in 2003 and built the company on promises and fraud to its peak valuation of $10 billion in 2014. He raised around $700 million from private investors and venture capitalists, like the family. Walton (owners of the Walmart group), Rupert Murdoch (media mogul whose newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, eventually exposed Theranos), and Betsy DeVos (who served as former US President Donald Trump’s education secretary).

US-based Walgreens, which operates large pharmacy-style stores, reached an agreement with Theranos to provide in-store blood tests at 40 locations, prompting numerous reports of false positives and negatives in blood tests by doctors and patients. . Through the piling up of red flags and whistleblowers, The Wall Street Journal investigative medical journalist John Carreyrou led the investigation and eventual exposure of Holmes and Theranos as a company in 2015.

Theranos’s various technologies were fundamentally flawed, and Holmes used the appeal to proprietary information and “tech talk” as a shield between his scam and the truth. In January 2022, Holmes was found guilty of fraud but has yet to be sentenced.

Another quasi-legitimate group of scammers are the stars of the “Fake Guru” industry who use “hustle culture” and “toxic positivity” to maximum effect. They promise wealth and fame in exchange for a prize, posing in front of sports cars and mansions on social media. They offer online materials and e-learning courses on financial management, wealth, business start-ups, investing, relationships, and self-help. They excel at offering masterclasses, often starting with a free event and giving attendees just minutes to spend money on a limited-time masterclass offer. This leads to even more special, limited-time offers on more classes and courses.

In addition to the sense of urgency, they use numbers and key terminology to create a sense of novelty, such as “7 ways to invest in NFTs today.” But, very often, the only business or industry that these so-called fake gurus have found success in is offering these limited-time courses and masterclasses. Increasingly, the long-revered masters of the self-help industry are included in the ranks of false gurus.

In turn, technology is being used to expose the actions of these fake gurus, with YouTube channels like Coffeezilla and Mike Winnet’s “Contrepreneur Bingo” series. Victims of these fake gurus are interviewed on these and other channels and tell their stories of how they have spent thousands of US dollars on these often low-quality master classes or advice that is freely available on the internet.

A subset of these bogus gurus is “Crypto Bros,” which use technology to lure people into various (often bogus) schemes to invest in cryptocurrencies and, more recently, NFTs (non-fungible tokens, which are images, written unique digital videos and audio). that are traded and protected through the blockchain).

So-called “influencers” – people with large followings on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram – have also jumped into the fray creating scams, ranging from dietary and fitness advice and supplements fake, which are never received or of low quality. Some of these so-called, and often self-styled, “influencers” have been charged and found guilty, but there are still many others who post on social media every day, spreading false information and scamming their fans.

Then there’s the so-called “hunbot,” the woman you vaguely remember from school, who suddenly befriends you on social media and slithers into your DM. She calls you “hun” and spams you with invitations to join her MLM effort as her “downline” and become a fierce boss or at least buy whatever product she’s selling. Recently, there has been a growth in social media channels, accounts, and podcasts that have sprung up to expose the tactics of these “MLM bots” such as “Not The Good Girl” on YouTube.

Many of these companies, even household names in South Africa, have had to pay fines from the US Federal Trade Commission for fraudulent claims and activities, though they insist they are not pyramid schemes. Due to personal financial difficulties caused by the government and corporate reaction to the coronavirus, the Internet has been the vehicle for unprecedented growth in MLM, which has subsequently become a $35.2 billion industry. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that 99% of multilevel marketers lose money.

fake imposters

We have had these scammers, swindlers, imposters, cheats, swindlers and snake oil sellers with us for as long as mankind has existed and technology is, and will increasingly be, their tool, their magic wand, which they will wave to hypnotize us. victimhood As easy as it is to label them as opportunists, psychopaths, criminals and immoral outsiders; they too are victims. Victims of a global society that craves novelty, fame, fortune and is always made to feel like it’s struggling, rushing and never good enough.

As technology like blockchain and quantum computing becomes even murkier for mere mortals to understand, and technology like “deepfake” (fake videos of people, like presidents and celebrities) becomes harder to detect ; We are entering a time of rampant opportunity for fraudsters.

The only way is knowledge: knowledge of how the technology works and not accepting limited time offers that seem too good to be true. Knowledge and understanding that technology has always been and will always be a tool. It could be a tool used for good, but if it is abused or used in a scam, it will be. From hacking to exposing fake news, fake gurus, fake romantic partners, and fake influencers, the remedy will always be one step behind the perpetrator.

Without turning negative and missing out on real opportunities, we will need to become custodians of our own confidence, commit to rigorous due diligence practices, always use critical and systemic thinking, and apply a heavy dose of self-doubt. We will have to manage our lives, hearts, businesses and technologies responsibly towards ourselves, our families, our investors, our staff, the community and the environment.

Stellenbosch University Business School will offer a specialized stream in New Technology Management in the Futures Studies postgraduate diploma starting in 2023. More information will be available on the website: