When news from Leaked personal data 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 has been 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 like identity cards (even the electronic version) and household records have to be photocopied for administrative purposes. Whenever you create an account in e-commerce apps, you must provide your ID number, along with a photo of yourself holding your ID card, to verify your identity. The risk that my identity will be usurped, whether for To borrow money or for rip people off, is inevitable.
Although I gave up on the situation, I am still frustrated with the spam messages that keep filling my inbox. Every day at least one unknown number sends me a text to offer me a loan or to let me know that I have made an incredibly large amount of money.
Our communication ministry said we can put an end to these spam messages by registering our identification number and household registration documents at their service, but I and many others still receive such messages daily 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 to save the number nowhere, and use it only to contact people close to me. I was optimistic that my new number will not be “tainted” with spam messages. I enjoyed some peace and quiet for about two weeks before I received my first spam message.
Curious about how this happened, I asked digital security consultant Teguh Aprianto why spam messages always populated my new number. He said the number might not be that new.
âSo far in Indonesia, abandoned phone numbers are recycled and resold. It is possible that these new numbers were used by others to make some recordings, âTeguh told me.
âAnother thing to consider is where you bought this issue. If you bought it from street vendors, they probably wrote down every phone number you sold. They sell the database and the collectors take that data from them.
I bought the number from a street vendor. I mean, I didn’t know where else to get it.
Teguh doubts the government is taking digital security concerns seriously.
âPeople 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] awaiting reports, âhe said.
When I asked what I could do to protect my phone number from spam messages, he advised me to buy a number from international providers that can be used in the country. He said most local providers cannot guarantee that our number will be safe from scammers.
It seemed like I had no choice but to make peace with the spammers, just like the president told us to “Coexist” with COVID-19. So I took the high road and decided to befriend these anonymous texters. But will they return my feelings? I spent a week texting them back to find out.
Since my inbox was already filled with spam messages, I spent all day listing the contact details of my potential new friends.
From the day I received the issue in March until mid-September, I had received a total of 22 spam messages. Ten offered loans, 11 were price scams and one was a business partner request from someone claiming to be from Malaysia.
The messages were sent by SMS, but I could not chat with these numbers. Almost all of them asked me to contact another number included in the text message. I contacted all 22 of them and started the conversations with messages like, “Hello, is it true that you can lend me money?” or “Hello, I am the winner of X and would like to claim the prize.”
I left my phone on my table and went to bed. hope someone will reply to the message, I was thinking. I really need a friend to share my deepest feelings with.
The first thing I did when I woke up was check my phone. I was so excited to see their responses. As a lot of posts were coming in, I focused on creating chemistry with people offering to lend money through online loans. Their responses were quite similar. They asked me to send a message detailing my personal information. I had to attach a photo of my ID card, household registration and booklet. They also asked me to fill out an application form. After that, they said they would lend me between 5 and 500 million Indonesian rupees ($ 350- $ 35,000). Attractive. That’s what friends are for, right? They are ready to help you when you are having financial difficulties.
I saved these 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 picture of two smiling men, another also had a picture of two men but they were holding fuzzy certificates. The others sported the logo of the organization they were supposed to work for. A number is not saved on WhatsApp and could not be reached 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 on “read.” All they cared about was the money, I guess.
Although knowing that most of them acted like I didn’t exist, I decided to still greet them every morning. I tried to engage them in a discussion about life. Maybe, just maybe, someone would have changed their mind and wanted to be friends with me. Five people read my message but ignored me, while four sent a message similar to the previous day. One of them asked me for my photo.
Seeing a chance to converse with them, I uploaded an unidentifiable image I got from the internet. I told them my name was Widi and that I was from Klaten, a regency in Central Java (I apologize to anyone called Widi from Klaten). âSend me your video, show me your face,â 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 won an award. They claimed to be from trusted institutions including a health care and social security agency that supposedly distributed COVID-19 aid, an e-commerce platform, an oil and gas company, and a celebrity couple. .
The health agency and the celebrity couple didn’t provide an alternate contact number, so I decided to try the ones purportedly from an e-commerce site and gas company instead. But it was a long process to get their numbers.
Unlike other spam messages, their texts did not have a contact number, but a link to a poorly designed website. The content of the two pages was very similar. In one article, 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 caught my eye is that the ad specifically asked me not to tell anyone about the prize I’m supposed to receive. They said it could lead to jealousy.
I finally found their WhatsApp numbers at the bottom of the site. I sent them a message, hopeful that my efforts would bear fruit. I received a response, but they asked for my name and PIN in the previous message. I ignored these requests and started talking about life instead, but they left me on âreadâ.
Day 5, 6, 7
The last three days have passed without incident. I spent them contacting 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 collected from my new number, I also replied to 52 other people using my work number, none of whom answered me. These seven days have passed without me making a single new friend. I can’t believe they were all so cruel.
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