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How a Shocking Football Scam Reveals the Extent of Fraud

Fergal Parkinson

3 min read

Why this preposterous football scam tells us a lot about the sheer scale of fraud – and what to do about it

It was one of the most ridiculous scams I’ve ever seen. Liverpool fans were still reeling from the bombshell news that their hugely popular and successful manager Jurgen Klopp was to leave the club after nine years – sparking global speculation about who would succeed him. Foremost among the suggestions was a former Liverpool player, Xabi Alonso, whose managerial career at Bayer Leverkusen has started particularly strongly, making him an early fan favourite.
And it was at this point that fraudsters spotted an opportunity.

Cloning Alonso’s Instagram account, they started a purported crowdfunding drive. The reason it was so ridiculous? It was framed as Alonso asking for financial help to travel from Germany to Liverpool to interview for the job. The idea that a Premier League footballer turned highly sought-after manager – with an annual wage expectation in the range of £10 million – should ask for individual contributions of £6.40 to assist his flight plans as if he were some skint backpacking student caused widespread hilarity. It was preposterous, yes, but not so preposterous that police in football-mad Thailand (where it seems to have originated and was circulating most widely) felt they could ignore it: and a warning not to fall for the scam was officially circulated.

Ok this particular scam was so crude that, at least initially, there would probably only be a handful who would have fallen for it.
But in a perverse way, the many people taking the mickey out of how bad it was, making it go viral, may have actually helped the fraudsters out.

How? Well a victim might be someone who isn’t by any means the sharpest pencil, or someone who’s particularly tired, or perhaps drunk, or on strong medication. Someone, anyone in one of these categories could see the scam. And if they see it because it has been forwarded by someone they know and trust – someone who is forwarding it because they think it’s funny not because they want anyone to pay up – they may miss this crucial point. They may misunderstand. They may only half register it and then, without even properly thinking what they’re doing, without reading the thing fully or reflecting on how it can’t be true, they will ping the money. As if their friend is asking them for a small charity contribution for a sponsored walk.

It’s such a small sum – £6.40 – it can seem easier and quicker for them to ping than think about it. And say that only one in 1,000 people who see the thing respond in this way – that still means that, if the fraudsters can get their viral post seen by 10 million people, then that would represent a hit of £64,000. Not a bad return at all for a bad joke. And in all likelihood, anyone who does respond will be targeted again very soon because their number will be stored as an easy mark.

More widely, I feel the story of this ridiculous football scam leads to a serious point about where we are with fraud. And that is that fraud is now everywhere, permeating every field, every country, every stratum of every society. Once upon a time, perhaps 15-20 years ago, the number and range of scams was extremely limited. “My uncle died and left a diamond mine worth $10 million and I need your help to access the money” was the classic example. But since then the fraud ecosystem has expanded exponentially and there are now attempted fraud traps in any number of niche fields and subject areas. And while some are crude – as in the case of Alonso’s plane tickets – the rise and rise of AI is making this the exception rather than the rule. So much so that almost nothing can be taken at face value any more.

So what is one to do? We at TMT Analysis specialise in being able to distinguish between the real and the fake. And we find the most consistently efficient way of doing this is by examining the integrity of the mobile number linked to any individual or transaction. Its data history and live status can tell us as much if not more about its user than any traditional verification tool.
And while ordinary punters – Liverpool fans invested in signing Xabi Alonso, say – may not have access to the quality live data that we are able to use to help our business customers, they can adapt some of our core functions.

And ask themselves: is this really what it purports to be? In this instance, this would be followed by supplementary questions. Is it hosted by a platform I recognise and trust? Does the accounts follower numbers tally with what you’d expect? If it’s crowd-funding, can I see other contributors and a running total of how much has been raised, as I would expect? And so on. As a society we are in the midst of a war on fraud.

It will be a long and arduous war and there will be many casualties. These casualties will be people who are too trusting, too quick to act without thinking, too casual around password security and so on. All of us need to keep reminding ourselves to take nothing at face value – particularly online or around any unsolicited message or call. We cannot be reminded of this enough – and the Alonso viral message in that sense may just have served a useful purpose.

Last updated on April 10, 2024


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