Group-IB, a global cybersecurity leader headquartered in Singapore, in coordination with the UAE Cybersecurity Council has today published a new research blog outlining a new fake investment scam that is targeting users across the globe.
In total, experts from Group-IB’s Digital Risk Protection team uncovered almost 900 unique scam pages leveraged by the cybercriminals behind this still-ongoing scheme. Links to these scam pages were contained in Facebook advertisements purchased by the scammers and the text of these posts offered users the opportunity to invest in one of 35 market-leading companies from 13 countries. This text was often accompanied by an image in which the scammers used the logo of the impersonated company in question. In total, 60% of the scam pages created in this scheme, which peaked in activity in December 2022, targeted users from the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Based on Group-IB’s estimations, this scam campaign caused roughly $280,000 in financial damages for internet users between March and June 2023.
Group-IB has a zero-tolerance policy to cybercrime, and the company blocked all discovered scam pages that contained the brand name or likeness of Group-IB clients. In order to investigate this scam campaign, Group-IB analysts used the company’s proprietary Digital Risk Protection platform, leveraging its AI technology and highly accurate logo analysis and text recognition features. The company’s researchers are continuing to monitor this scam scheme amid the continued uptick in the number of retail investors and, subsequently, investment scams.
The core aim of the cybercriminals behind this campaign is financial gain, as they leverage sophisticated social engineering techniques to exploit individuals’ vulnerabilities and inherent trust in well-known brands. Group-IB researchers first began tracking this scam scheme in June 2022, when the campaign burst into life, although there is evidence to suggest that the scammers purchased a small portion of the domains used to host scam sites as early as 2020.
In total, 884 unique scam pages were created and registered by the scammers since the start of the campaign. The peak in activity was registered in December 2022, when 308 new pages were created. Throughout the entire duration of the scam campaign, 60% of scam pages targeted users in the MEA region, with the bulk of these adverts containing text written in the Arabic language. Users in Latin America were targeted on 9.2% of the scam pages, and 4.8% of scam pages were geared towards users in the Asia-Pacific region, while 25% of the resources had no specific geographic focus.
Due to the sector’s seemingly easy integration with investment opportunities, 30% of scam pages discovered during this campaign impersonated legitimate financial and insurance companies. Other highly targeted sectors were transportation (25% of all scam pages), stock trading (8.6%), oil and gas (5.3%), and construction (5.3%).
Group-IB researchers estimated the potential financial losses from this campaign over a four-month period to amount to $280,000. This figure was drawn from an analysis of activity on several of the scam sites leveraged between March and June 2023.
H.E. Dr. Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cybersecurity for the UAE Government, said: “As technology continues to advance, so do its risks. Our eagerness to adopt new innovative technologies in the pursuit of advancement has made us an attractive target for cyber criminals. However, we’ve been resilient in the face of these challenges, learning invaluable lessons and placing cyber literacy as a priority. The UAE Cybersecurity Council has been dedicated to enhancing cybersecurity awareness and fortifying the digital landscape, contributing significantly to reducing the influence of scammers. The UAE, a leader in the cybersecurity space, stands as a prime example with its cutting-edge infrastructure and comprehensive strategy to bolster digital defenses. Agility in swiftly addressing emerging threats is paramount in today’s dynamic cyber landscape.”
A typical victim will first encounter this scam by seeing an advertisement placed by the cybercriminals on their social media feeds. Group-IB researchers found adverts placed in multiple languages, most notably English, Arabic, and Spanish. On Arabic-language advertisements and scam sites created for this campaign, the scammers entice individuals with claims that they could earn millions by investing a mere $200. These adverts may also use the words “news”, “media”, “investment”, and “digital”, either in English or in Arabic. Spanish-language adverts, such as those in the below Figure 2, offer users the chance to earn money each month.
If the user clicks on the advertisement, they are redirected to a scam page that contains the logo and branding of a prominent company, imploring the user to register for the possibility to make quick, easy money by investing. The scammers request the name, email address, and phone number from the user.
Once the user has completed this form, they will receive daily emails claiming to be from a trading portal. These emails implore the user to sign up for the chance to begin trading stocks, and the first email contains an account number, login information, password, and server name for their supposed account on this platform. Users are then urged to deposit money into their trading account to begin buying stocks.
If, after a period of time, the user does not place a deposit, they will receive a call from a person claiming to be a customer service representative. This individual begins pressuring the victim to deposit funds, promising the chance to earn immediate dividends. Should the victim agree, they are asked for information about their bank card, desired investment amount and place of residence. Additionally, they will then receive an email asking for their ID and passport. Group-IB researchers examined multiple user testimonies of the investment portal posted online. Users frequently complain that representatives of the portal stop communicating once they transfer money. Users are also blocked on messaging platforms once they request a refund.
“Retail investing is becoming increasingly popular among individuals who are looking for ways to diversify their income, but this has created opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit this trend. This particular scam is notable as the cybercriminals leverage multiple communication channels, such as email and direct phone calls, as part of their social engineering efforts. Investment scams have the potential to cause great financial damage to victims, given the potential large sums of money involved, and we urge individuals to never share personal information or money with third parties unless you are certain of their legitimacy,” Sharef Hlal, Head of Group-IB’s Digital Risk Protection Analytics Team, MEA, said.
Botswana financial sector safe despite high unsecured household loans – IMF
Botswana’s financial sector has been deemed safe and resilient by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), despite the presence of high levels of unsecured household loans. The IMF’s 2023 report on the country’s financial sector highlights the robustness of Botswana’s banking system and its ability to withstand various shocks.
According to the report, credit risk is the largest risk in Botswana’s banking system, with a significant portion of total assets comprising loans concentrated in the household sector. Specifically, 70 percent of bank loans to households in Botswana are personal loans, primarily in the form of unsecured consumer credit. However, the IMF notes that a large share of lenders collect repayments through direct salary deduction, resulting in a generally low level of non-performing household loans.
The IMF’s assessment confirms that most banking entities in Botswana have strong capital buffers, which would enable them to survive even in the event of an increase in non-performing loans in the household sector. While a 20 percent transition of performing loans into non-performing loans would result in some banks experiencing a significant capital shortfall, the majority of banks possess robust total capital buffers and would remain unaffected by severe shocks to household loans.
Furthermore, the IMF team conducted Bank Solvency Stress Tests, which demonstrated that Botswana’s banking system remains profitable and resilient to severe macro-financial shocks. The stress tests revealed that the aggregate capital depletion in an adverse scenario is relatively small, amounting to less than 0.02 percent of GDP. Although credit risk increases significantly under the adverse scenario, the impact on the capital ratio from rising non-performing loans is outweighed by the increase in net interest income.
The IMF’s assessment also indicates that Botswana’s financial sector weathered the Covid-19 pandemic well. The authorities have made notable progress in strengthening financial supervisory and regulatory frameworks since 2007. The financial sector is deemed stable, sound, and resilient, with risks primarily related to banks’ high concentration of short-term deposits from retirement funds and insurance companies, volatility in diamond prices, geopolitical developments, and tightening global financial conditions. However, the financial system remains resilient to a wide range of shocks associated with these risks, although some vulnerabilities exist.
The Financial Stability Council (FSC), a statutory body led by the Governor of the Bank of Botswana, also recently affirmed the resilience and safety of the domestic financial system. The FSC’s assessment found that the financial sector in Botswana is robust, safe, and unconstrained in providing a range of financial services to support the economy. This resilience is attributed to strong capital and liquidity buffers, profitability, continuous innovation and adaptability, and a robust regulatory environment. The FSC believes that the macroeconomic environment, characterized by positive economic growth, well-managed government fiscal position, and modest inflation, further supports financial stability. Stress tests conducted on banks validate their strong solvency and resilience.
IMF concludes that Botswana’s financial sector remains safe and resilient, despite the presence of high levels of unsecured household loans. The IMF’s assessment highlights the strong capital buffers of banking entities, their ability to withstand shocks, and the overall stability of the financial system. The country’s financial sector has also demonstrated its resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Financial Stability Council further affirms the safety and effectiveness of the financial system in providing financial services to support the economy.
Botala Energy debuts on the BSE
Botala Energy, an Australian energy company, recently made its debut on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE), joining a growing number of energy development companies trading on the exchange. The company, established in 2018, is focused on exploring and developing natural gas and renewable energy opportunities in Botswana, particularly in the Serowe Gas Project and Solar Opportunities.
The listing of Botala Energy on the BSE was welcomed by Mr Tsamatse Mamola, the Head of Listings & Tradings at the exchange. He recognized the company as a pioneering force in the field of gas exploration and development. Mamola also highlighted the company’s commitment to clean energy production, which aligns with the global movement towards sustainable practices. By harnessing the potential of coal bed methane in the Serowe Project and integrating it with solar power generation, Botala Energy is not only innovating in the energy sector but also contributing to a greener and more sustainable future.
Mamola emphasized the significance of Botala Energy’s decision to list all of its issued shares on the BSE. This move demonstrates the company’s confidence in the exchange as a strategic partner in its corporate journey. The listing provides Botala Energy with access to diverse sources of capital, which will be instrumental in advancing its exploration and development projects, fostering technological innovation, and achieving its clean energy production goals. The BSE, as a facilitator of capital raising, plays a crucial role in supporting ambitious initiatives and fostering growth.
The listing of Botala Energy also brings benefits to the broader Botswana economy. It increases investor interest, contributing to the liquidity and vibrancy of the market. Botswana, traditionally reliant on diamonds, recognizes the importance of diversifying its economic base. The inclusion of a dynamic and forward-looking company like Botala Energy on the exchange reflects the evolving economic landscape of the nation.
In the pursuit of economic diversification, the Botswana Stock Exchange serves as a bridge connecting visionary companies with investors who share their commitment to progress. By providing a marketplace for a diverse range of industries, from traditional sectors to emerging technologies, the exchange becomes a catalyst for economic resilience and sustainability.
Peter Grant, the Non-Executive Director of Botala Energy, shared some insights into the company’s operations. Since commencing exploration in Botswana, Botala has made significant progress, drilling exploration wells and pilot production wells. The company expects to become a modest producer of commercial gas within 12 months and increase production rapidly. Botala Energy has independently certified gas reserves and prospective resources within its project area, which have the potential to supply significant amounts of gas for power generation.
Grant also mentioned Botala Energy’s focus on delivering Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to off-grid communities, providing them with reliable and affordable electricity and gas. The company is exploring the commercial option of establishing an Energy Hub and Industrial Park near Palapye, where it aims to produce energy for Botswana and export it to neighboring South Africa. Additionally, Botala Energy plans to establish a solar/gas hybrid plant in Serowe to feed into the local grid, in collaboration with the Ngwato Development Trust.
Market analysts say the listing of Botala Energy on the Botswana Stock Exchange marks an important milestone for the company and the energy sector in Botswana. It provides the company with access to capital, fosters economic growth and diversification, and contributes to the global movement towards sustainable energy practices. Botala Energy’s innovative approach to gas exploration and development, combined with its commitment to clean energy production, positions it as a key player in shaping a greener and more sustainable future for Botswana.
Beverages dominate Botswana’s food imports
Beverages dominate Botswana’s food imports for August 2023, according to the latest figures released by Statistics Botswana. The country imported beverages, spirits, and vinegar worth approximately P332 million during this month. This is a significant increase from the previous month, where the food import bill slightly rose from P1,063,990,477.2 in July 2023 to P1,233,702,300.4 in August 2023.
The total imports for Botswana in August 2023 were valued at P6,995,115,623.2, compared to P6,897,364,155.2 recorded in July 2023. Food imports accounted for 15.9 percent of this amount, contributing P1,233,702,300.4. Among the food items imported, beverages, spirits, and vinegar accounted for the majority at 26.9 percent. Cereals and sugars followed with 13.4 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.
Within the category of beverages, spirits, and vinegar, the most imported commodities were mineral waters and aerated waters containing sugar or other sweetening matter or flavored, contributing 47.0 percent. Beer made from malt accounted for 16.7 percent, while fermented beverages and non-alcoholic beverages accounted for 15.9 percent. The import bill for beverages, spirits, and vinegar shows that the country imported mineral waters and aerated waters containing added sugar or other sweetening matter or flavored worth approximately P156 million. Beer made from malt accounted for around P55 million, while fermented beverages and non-alcoholic beverages were valued at around P79.1 million. Wine and liqueurs and cordials were also imported, with values of P12.6 million and P6.4 million, respectively.
In terms of cereals, dried maize excluding seed and other wheat and muslin accounted for 42.3 percent and 27.4 percent, respectively. Rice imports contributed 21.2 percent. The country spent approximately P165 million on cereal imports, with dried maize accounting for around P70 million, wheat around P45 million, and rice around P44.7 million.
Other food imports included preparations of cereals, flour, starch, or milk; pastry cooks’ products, which amounted to around P89 million. Preparations of vegetables, fruit, nuts, or other parts of plants accounted for around P88 million, while sugars and sugar confectionery were valued at around P108 million. Miscellaneous edible preparations, animal or vegetable fats and oils, dairy produce, prepared animal fodder, coffee, tea, and spices, fruits and nuts, meat, vegetables and certain roots and tubers, and products of the milling industry such as malt, starches, and wheat gluten were also imported, with values ranging from P13 million to P74.6 million.
In conclusion, beverages, particularly mineral waters and aerated waters containing sugar or other sweetening matter or flavored, dominate Botswana’s food imports for August 2023. The country also imports a significant amount of cereals, sugars, and other food products. These figures highlight the country’s reliance on imported food items and the need for strategies to promote domestic production and reduce dependence on imports.