South Africa is one of the most targeted countries when it comes to online fraudsters trying to steal personal details. What should you look out for and how can you protect yourself from getting scammed?
Two of the most common scams are phishing (pronounced ‘fishing’), which are e-mail scams and smishing, sms-scams.
Both are a kind of identity theft. Criminals try to get you to reveal your personal data, most commonly passwords, pin numbers, user names, account details or other information that will enable them to steal your money or make fraudulent transactions.
Typically you will receive an e-mail, sms or instant message that appears to come from a bank or other legitimate business. You’re asked to click on a link or download an attachment.
The link will direct you to a fraudulent website, which looks genuine. Here you’ll be asked to provide details which are used to access your accounts. Attachments contain a virus or malware which criminals use to access your computer and all your personal information.
The variety of scams are vast and as soon as the public is warned about one, the next is already launched. Here’s our guide to some of the most common scams and tips on how to protect yourself:
You receive an e-mail or SMS alerting you to a notification of payment. You click on the link and are taken to what seems to be a bank’s website. You are asked to provide your account details and other information such as your pin number in order to confirm the payment. The fraudsters then use this information to raid your account.
There are variations of this scam, including a message, apparently from your bank, asking to confirm your details.
No responsible bank or financial institution should ever send you an e-mail, sms or instant message which directs you to a website asking for your account and other confidential information and you should never reveal your pin number.
Personal loan scams
This scam invites you to apply for a low-interest loan and asks for a fee upfront. The fee requested is usually for administrative, legal or other seemingly reasonable costs.
The very low interest rates are usually why people respond, and although you pay the fee, you never receive the loan.
Do not to assume an email is legitimate just because it carries a logo, a company registration number or other details such as a head-office address. Many fraudulent e-mails look like the real thing.
Not all phishing and smishing involves getting your account details or luring you into making a payment. Some scams only try to get enough information to be able to open a fraudulent store, online shopping or loan account.
Again the request for information usually seems reasonable – a financial institution, retailer or online shop asking you to confirm some information.
Identify theft scams can be more difficult to spot because they don’t seem to be asking for sensitive information, but be suspicious of e-mails asking for details that a company should already have. Be extra suspicious if the request comes from one with which you’ve never done business.
Lottery and competition scams
These are probably the best -know scams, but still catch plenty of people every year.
Typically you’re told you’ve won a lottery or competition and are asked to provide information such as your ID number and banking details to claim the prize. You may also be asked to pay a fee for administration costs.
The inheritance scam is a variation of this. You’re told you’re about to receive a large inheritance and need to some provide personal information and a payment for the transaction to proceed.
A third version is the hard-luck story. Usually the scammer poses as a wealthy businessman or politician who needs your help to transfer a large amount of money.
These scams assume greed will overcome reason. Rather than asking why you’re winning a lottery you never entered, are inheriting money from a relative you don’t have or a stranger is entrusting you with a lot of money, the anticipation of being rich makes you push any doubts aside.
How to spot a scam
- You are offered money for nothing. All you have to do is click on a link, download an attachment or provide some personal information.
- The e-mail or SMS is not personalised. You’re addressed as Sir, Madam or Customer. Communication from legitimate sources is more likely to be personalised.
- You are pressurised into responding. This tactic is often used in lottery, inheritance and competition scams and aims to pressure you to reply before you have time to think. Alternatively scammers can try to scare you into providing information and threaten to close an account or suspend a service if information is not quickly provided. If in doubt, always first check with the company.
- Upfront payment is required. This is common with loan and competition scams. Never provide any upfront payments, no matter how genuine the e-mail or SMS seems.
- Personal or account information is required. Do not respond to an e-mail asking for personal or financial details and never click on a link to provide these details. If you need to transact or want to open an account, type the company’s address into your browser.
- The e-mail or SMS you’ve received is from an unknown sender or someone with whom you’ve never done business. If you’re an FNB client and you receive a payment notification from another bank, it’s probably a scam.
- You are urged to open an attachment. If your bank has never sent you an attachment before, be suspicious. Most financial institutions or retailers do not send attachments. High risk attachment file types include: .exe, .scr, .zip, .com, .bat.
- Look out for the unusual. If the logo looks slightly different, the website address seems odd – it is co.th rather than co.za – brand and product names are incorrect, the spelling and grammar is poor or the message has been sent to multiple recipients then the SMS or e-mail you’ve received could be a scam.