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Why have Ghanaians become easy prey to scams in recent times?

Scammers have always existed and they have because they have always found easy targets. Targets who become victims, some say of their own greed and lack of self-awareness and critical thinking.

While some are falling prey to money-makers, others are becoming victims of fake universities offering ridiculous honourary titles including professorships!

Growing up years ago in Nima, in Accra, I have grown accustomed to itinerant medicine men and merchants selling every, and anything they can find buyers for. Some moved from house to house to tell mythical stories about diseases and how the herbs they were selling could cure every ailment known to humans.

I remember vividly this man who in the 70s came to our house to sell a herb that cured toothache. I can still picture the scene in my mind. He mixed some concoctions and one of my sisters who suffered severe toothaches was made to pour some in her mouth and then pour it out into a container. When she did, the dark brown substance contained some things that looked like dead worms, they were dry – these were supposedly worms in her teeth that the herb had killed!

The medicine man proceeded to count the dead worms and my poor mother was to pay according to the number! As I recall now, she didn’t have all the money to pay and the man started threatening everyone at home. When he realized his threats couldn’t force my mother to cough out more than she already had, he reluctantly accepted what she offered as though he did her a favour.

Clearly, this conman played on the ignorance and gullibility of my disadvantaged family, and probably of others too, so poor to access dental care in our hospitals. I must say however, that in the 70s, not many Ghanaians could afford dental care or were even aware of its existence – additionally, there weren’t many dentists in Ghana and the practice wasn’t quite advanced. Dentists mostly would pull out teeth, unlike these days when they would do anything to save a tooth. The idea of having a tooth pulled out painfully, also scared a lot of people from going to the dentist.

The medicine man proceeded to count the dead worms and my poor mother was to pay according to the number!

There were also the itinerant magicians who would set up in market squares to ply their trade – they often got people enthralled by their skills and displays. Then there were those who sold items available only in distant villages – villages so far away that not much is known about them. They captured the attention of their potential victims with mythical tales, often playing on their fear of the unknown.

But this is the millennium, the year is 2019. Why do so many Ghanaians still fall victim to obvious scams?

In the 90s when some of the biggest Ponzi schemes R5 and Pyram emerged, the country was just recovering from the vestiges of a political experiment that left deep scars of economic failures. The country was just recovering from a military dictatorship with no real experience of how to run an economy. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which was replaced by the Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD) have all not helped but deepened the country’s economic difficulties forcing many Ghanaians to look for respite wherever they could find it.

The banks didn’t offer much help either, they had and still do have low thresholds of interest rates on savings. In those days, there was even a commercial bank that charged fees on savings accounts which balance fell below a certain amount, and people needed a way out of the crippling economic and suffocating financial environments.

There weren’t also many avenues for information sharing, and scammers could easily piggy-back on people’s ignorance.

So, to some extent the situations could be said to have pushed the people into accepting without a thought what appeared to be an easy way to make some extra money.

There were also the itinerant magicians who would set up in market squares to ply their trade – they often got people enthralled by their skills and displays. Then there were those who sold items available only in distant villages – villages so far away that not much is known about them. They captured the attention of their potential victims with mythical tales, often playing on their fear of the unknown.

But these days there is so much information around, and people who are willing to get to the bottom of things to be clear about what they are getting into, can do so.

It however, appears that, even social media platforms, that should afford avenues for asking questions and seeking answers have become the sources of manipulations and misinformation that people easily fall prey to.

Additionally, with the proliferation of mass media such as radio; and most Ghanaians listen to radio – it is easy to assume that people are getting informed and educated about a lot of important issues. But it does appear it isn’t. Like someone once said, social media seems to deepen some people’s ignorance and to make others even more stupid.

While the Menzgold scam and others haven’t yet been fully resolved, another scam known as Loom appeared and people fell for it – without asking questions and they lost money. Some got involved knowing too well that they could lose money, but were enamoured by the thinking that every investment is a potential risk – and it wasn’t long before they lost money. Some are still licking their wounds.

These wounds have barely healed, and guess what, a young man someone described as ‘a guy with an iPod in the ear’ appeared from nowhere and started offering advice on betting, and within a short time, he has tens of thousands of followers, all of them wanting a piece of the cake – a cake they haven’t seen nor know of its existence.

This is not only greed, but ignorance – some of these people are ignorant of the fact that there are a number of financial services and advisors around who would offer financial advice free of charge. They have no idea that getting financial advice is useful in making investment decisions, and there are many experts available.

There are also, investment products that are secure. Some are also insured to protect the investor.  But probably due to the desire ‘to get rich quick’ most people won’t look that way. Some are also likely to use the banking crisis as an excuse to look outside the financial system, however, the risks are higher outside the regulated system.

The expectations of higher winnings or receiving large returns in investments are always easy baits, but being careful and probing are sure ways of avoiding the trap of falling to scammers and there are so many of them.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: edogbevi@gmail.com

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