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Stay ahead of scams

In a nutshell: Scamming by phone, email and SMS is rife in South Africa. But you can empower yourself to spot a fraudster from a mile away.

Scams come in all shapes and sizes, from an email saying you’ve won a million dollars to a TikTok influencer promising amazing returns in a Ponzi scheme. According to the South African Fraud Prevention Services, identity fraud increased by 337% in 2020. Stay one step ahead of these fraudsters by being scam-savvy.

If you receive any kind of too-good-to-be-true offer, the first thing you should do is to determine whether the person/company/organisation offering the service is legit.

Before you agree to anything, make sure who you are dealing with. Here are some tips:

1 If someone phones you, always ask:

  • What is your name and what company do you represent?
  • Who owns your company?
  • What is your address?
  • If they dither in answering these questions, it’s a red flag!

Nolwazi says…

When you receive a phone call from an unknown person with a fantastic offer, be skeptical and ask yourself:

  • Is he/she pressuring me to take up this offer?
  • Does it seem too good to be true?
  • Is he/she asking for money or anything unusual?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, calmly tell the person you want to do your research first, and that he/she can call you back at a later stage.

2 Check the company address on Google Maps and double-check their contact details.

3 Search for the company on trusted review platforms like Hellopeter.

4 Visit the company’s website and social media channels to see whether they exist and are active.

Scammers are opportunistic and take advantage of consumers on special occasions. Be extra vigilant during the festive season, on Valentine’s Day or Black Friday, at back-to-school time and when you are job hunting.

5 Google the name of the company or individual and the words “scam” or “fraud” to see if any news articles appear.

6 The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) must license all companies offering financial products or services. First check with the FSCA on its toll-free number (0800 110 443) or website whether the institution or person is allowed to provide financial services.

7 If the individual making an offer claims to work for a well-known company, contact the company direct to find out if this is the case.

8 If a “friend” asks you via a digital platform, like WhatsApp, Facebook message or SMS, for money or wants you to participate in an “amazing” investment opportunity, check with him/her in person. Scammers can even impersonate voices, so be sure to look your friend in the eye. As a rule, never send money to anyone you are communicating with over the internet.

Common types of scams

These scenarios should let your scam radar light up:

  • A person with a sad story asking for money but who can’t give any proof of his/her situation.
  • An investment opportunity with much higher returns than those of normal banks and investment companies.
  • A message (email, WhatsApp, SMS, Telegram) containing links or attachments that you must open and enter personal details.
  • Any investment or payment where you have to deposit money via Bitcoin or into an individual’s bank account. Established companies do not operate in this manner.
  • A person from your bank asking for personal information, PINs, passwords or an OTP – your bank will never ask for this, even if there’s fraudulent activity on your account. Rather contact the bank direct or via the banking app if you are unsure.
  • On dating sites, be suspicious of people who have jobs that require lots of travel, especially if they keep promising to meet you but then cancel at the last minute.
  • Job offers on WhatsApp – double-check the job opportunity through official channels rather than via WhatsApp. Reputable companies will advertise jobs on their website and official social media channels.

Beware of dubious websites

Did you know that scammers can duplicate websites? You might think that you are buying sneakers on Zando, but it could be a fake site. These sites are designed to mimic well-known brands. Simon Campbell-Young, co-founder of Digimune, gives the following advice when shopping online:

1 Make sure to look at the little lock icon (see below) on the left side of the web address. You can see if the website’s certificate is legit if you click on it. But don’t just trust the lock! Sometimes, fraudsters can manipulate it. So, always be careful and don’t rely only on the lock to know if a website is real or not.

2 Thoroughly check the website, especially the About Us pages. Fake sites will often contain spelling and grammatical errors. Also, dial the contact number to check whether it’s the real deal.

3 Use your browser’s SafeSearch function, and Antivirus Protection. These tools provide secure browsing and real-time security against threats such as malware, online scams, fake websites, and phishing emails.