I responded to those annoying spam messages for a week
When news about Personal data leak of Indonesian President Joko Widodo broke, I knew I could no longer trust the government to protect our personal information. If the country’s most prominent figure was the victim of a data breach, what about commoners like me? I was resigned to my fate as an Indonesian, living in a country where personal documents such as identification cards (even the electronic version) and household records must be photocopied for administrative purposes. Every time you create an account in e-commerce applications, you must provide your identification number, as well as a photo of yourself with your identification card, to verify your identity. The risk that my identity will be misused, either to lend money or to scam people, it is unavoidable.
Although I have given up on the situation, I am still frustrated with the spam messages that keep filling my inbox. Every day at least one unknown number texts me to offer a loan or to notify me that I made an incredibly large amount of money.
Our communications ministry said that we could stop these spam messages. registering our identification number and household registration documents to his department, but I and many others continue to receive these types of messages on a daily basis despite having done so.
One day, I was so fed up with all the spam that I decided to buy a new number. My plan was not to record the number anywhere and only use it to contact people close to me. I was optimistic that my new number will not be “corrupted” by spam messages. I enjoyed some peace and quiet for about two weeks before getting my first spam message.
Curious about how this happened, I asked digital security consultant Teguh Aprianto why spam messages kept filling up my new number. He said the number might not be that new.
“Until now, in Indonesia, abandoned phone numbers are recycled and sold again. There is a possibility that others have used those new numbers to make certain records, ”Teguh told me.
“Another thing to consider is where you bought that number. If you bought it from street vendors, they probably wrote down all the phone numbers that were sold. They sell the database and the collectors take that data away from them. “
I bought the number from a street vendor. I mean, I didn’t know where else to get it from.
Teguh doubts the government takes digital security issues seriously.
“People are confused about receiving strange messages. When we complain [to the government], we are told to report it. So far, the government has made no effort. [other than] waiting for reports, ”he said.
When I asked him what I could do to protect my phone number from spam messages, he recommended that I buy a number from international providers that can be used domestically. He said that most local providers cannot guarantee that our number is safe from scammers.
It seemed he had no choice but to make peace with spammers, as the president told us. “Coexist” with COVID-19. So, I took the right path and decided to befriend these anonymous text messages. But will they correspond to my feelings? I spent a week texting them to find out.
Since my inbox was already full of spam messages, I spent the entire day listing the contact details of my potential new friends.
From the day I received the number in March to mid-September, I had received a total of 22 spam messages. Ten offered loans, 11 were award scams, and one was an application to be a business partner from someone claiming to be from Malaysia.
The messages were sent via SMS, but I was unable to chat with those numbers. Almost everyone instructed me to contact another number included in the text message. I contacted the 22 and started the conversations with messages like, “Hi, is it true that you can lend me some money?” or “Hello, I am the winner of X and would like to claim the prize.”
I put my phone on the table and went to bed. I hope someone responds to the message, I thought. I really need a friend with whom I can share my deepest feelings.
The first thing I did when I woke up was check my phone. I was so excited to see their responses. Since a lot of messages were coming through, I focused on developing chemistry with people who were offering to lend money through online loans. Their responses were quite similar. I was instructed to send a message detailing my personal information. I had to attach a photo of my ID card, home registration, and passbook. They also asked me to fill out an application form. After that, they said that they would lend me between 5 and 500 million Indonesian rupees (between 350 and 35,000 dollars). Nice. That’s what friends are for, right? They are ready to help you when you have financial difficulties.
I saved those numbers and checked their WhatsApp profiles. I looked at their photos, trying to get to know them better. Of the 10 contact numbers, only one did not have a profile picture. One number had a photo of two smiling men, another also had a photo of two men, but they had blurred certificates. The rest showed the logo of the organization they supposedly worked for. A number is not registered in WhatsApp and could not be contacted by SMS.
I ignored all requests to fill out a form. All I wanted was a shoulder to cry on, but they left my ramblings to “read.” All they cared about was money, I guess.
Despite knowing that most of them acted like I didn’t exist, I decided to say hello to them every morning. I tried to get them involved in a discussion about life. Maybe, just maybe, someone would change their mind and want to be my friend. Five people read my message but ignored me, while four sent a message similar to the previous day. One asked for my photo.
Seeing an opportunity to chat with them, I sent them an unidentifiable image that I got from the internet. I told them that my name was Widi and that I was from Klaten, a regency in Central Java (I apologize to all so-called Widi from Klaten). “Send me your video, show me your face,” they replied. Damn, I just wanted to talk about my love life, but they insisted that I verify my identity, so I cut all ties.
Tired of talking to people who only cared about money and business, I turned to spammers who told me I had won an award. They claimed to be from trusted institutions, including a health care and social security agency that allegedly distributed COVID-19 aid, an e-commerce platform, an oil and gas corporation, and a celebrity couple.
Both the health agency and the celebrity couple did not provide an alternate contact number, so I decided to try the ones that supposedly come from an e-commerce site and a gas corporation. But it was a long process to get their numbers.
Unlike other spam messages, their texts did not include a contact number, but a link to a poorly designed website. The content of both pages was very similar. In one post, they insisted that everything they said in the text was not a scam. They also congratulated me on being chosen as the winner.
One thing that struck me was that the ad specifically asked me not to tell anyone about the award that I am supposedly about to receive. They said it might provoke jealousy.
I finally found their WhatsApp numbers at the bottom of the site. I sent them a message, hoping that my efforts would materialize. I got a reply, but they asked for my name and PIN code in the previous message. I ignored these requests and started talking about life, but they let me “read”.
Day 5, 6, 7
The last three days passed without incident. I spent them reaching out to the numbers I had contacted before. I also started texting those who sent spam messages to another number that I use for work.
Aside from the 22 contacts I gathered from my new number, I also responded to 52 other people using my work number, none of whom answered me. Those seven days passed without me making a single new friend. I can’t believe they were all so heartless.
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