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Ministry warns of Covid-19 cash online scams

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja announced government’s proposal to distribute cash to vulnerable people affected by the second lockdown. 

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Gender, Labor and Social Development Ministry has raised a red flag over unscrupulous individuals inviting people to register for the government COVID-19 grant. The scammers are using a web-based link, which went viral on different social media platforms shortly after the Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja announced government’s proposal to distribute cash to vulnerable people affected by the second lockdown.

However, the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development has distanced itself from the said scheme. “Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development has noted with concern a web-based link circulating in different social media platforms calling on them to register for the “Government COVID-19 support grant….. This notice serves to caution the general public against this scheme,” reads a notice from the Ministry issued on Tuesday morning.

Frank Mugabi, the Head of Communication Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development says that although those affected by the lockdown are in dire need of help, they should wait for official arrangements of government rather than falling victims to opportunists or any other cyber scammers.

“…the national sectorial covid-19 task force chaired by the Prime Minister is finalizing the process of identification of categories of persons that will be considered for government support and will soon advise the public accordingly,” a public notice shared by Mugabi reads in part.

Information obtained by URN shows that the website might be based in Nigeria and a duplicate of the coalition against COVID-19, a private sector-led organization established to assist the Nigerian government to combat the pandemic. On opening the link, the user is asked to answer three questions before he is directed to forward the link to fifteen other people to get a withdrawal code.

“You may get the support fund with only one step, kindly click the “Invite Friends/Group” button below to share this information with 15 friends or 5 groups on WhatsApp so that they can also (also) benefit,” reads the message on the website.

The forwarded message also indicates that the applicant can get the money within 24 hours. On the website, there is also a dead link of people who claim to have benefited from the program. Henry Tumwesigye is one of the people who applied for the money after receiving the link. He says that the link appeared genuine with people confirming to have benefited from the program.

Dr. Sara Namusoga, an Information Technology-IT expert notes that although people might not be conned directly, they are innocently used to generate traffic for the website as they invite more people to visit it. “The clicks or visits on this website generate revenue for the owners through google adverts. When a website has a lot of traffic, it is given more adverts, which later becomes monitory for its owner,” the expert explained.

Dr. Namusoga also noted that there is another possibility of selling the data provided to the website to advertisers and other interested parties. “During the application for the said COVID-19 grant, the provided link might be embedded with malware that can be used to harvest people’s data for instance telephone numbers. These numbers are at times used for cold calling or messaging and that is why at times we receive unsolicited calls or messages from advertisers,” she added and warned people from opening such links or even forwarding them to others.



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