I’ve reported on many cases of unauthorised debit orders over the years, but was recently told about one in which the level of fraud was quite ridiculous.
Lizelle Bright’s bank account was debited by Durban-based telesales company Destination Dynamics in the amount of R349 last July.
She approached her bank, Absa, and got the debit order reversed, a process which cost her R26, adding to her annoyance, given that she had been charged a debit order fee of R7.50 in the first place.
Not content to leave it there, Bright approached the Payments Association of SA (Pasa), which regulates the entire payments system – EFTs, debit and credit cards and debit orders.
They put the onus on Destination Dynamics to come up with their mandate – a recording of the call in which Bright allegedly agreed to a “lifestyle discount card”, and supplied her bank details.
In my experience, when faced with such a demand, these companies claim that the call recording was deleted by the rogue sales agent, or somehow unavailable. “System error” is a common excuse.
But, curiously, Destination Dynamics obliged, and Pasa in turn e-mailed a two-minute call recording to Bright.
She opened the sound file and had the surreal experience of hearing a total stranger pretending to be her.
The woman sounds younger than her and she has a different accent and a noticeably higher-pitched voice.
The telesales agent, “Tony”, can be heard telling her that thanks to her loyalty to her cellphone network, she qualifies for a rewards card with “Jabulani Rewards”, and then he reels off a “registration number”, which Bright was astonished to recognise as her ID number.
Next he tells the woman that she will be rewarded with discounts at several stores – he names quite a few – as well as membership to various “assist” programmes.
“Tony” then asks the Bright impostor: “So what do you think of that, ma’am?”
She hesitates for a second, and without any further prompting, volunteers her bank details: “Okay, I’m with Absa bank, and the account number is…”
Only then does the telesales agent reveal what this “rewards programme” is going to cost her: “Now before I go, I just wanna say there is a one-off activation fee of R349, thereafter R99, okay?”
“Okay,” she says breezily, and the call ends.
“The whole thing is laughably improbable,” Bright told Consumer Watch.
“I often get those sales calls and I always refuse what’s being offered, but I thought that maybe they doctored one of those calls to make it sound as if I agreed to something. But what I heard instead was a complete stranger who had obviously been paid to pretend to be me. I was angry, and amazed by how ridiculous the whole thing sounded!”
(To hear the fake telesales call, go to www.iol.co.za, click on Blogs, then Consumer Watch.)
Happily, Destination Dynamics and its owners are now on Pasa’s bad user list, which means they can no longer put debit orders through any local bank’s system.
Pasa – mandated by the Reserve Bank to regulate South Africa’s various payment systems – is effectively putting many rogue telemarketing companies, most of them based in Durban, out of business in this way.
Since November last year, Pasa has closed down 97 companies, according to chief executive Walter Volker, and there are another eight on the organisation’s review list.
When Pasa puts a company on its bad user list, it records not only the company name, but the owners’ ID numbers and the physical address of the business too, to prevent the same people, or their relatives, from continuing with their dodgy debit orders under a different name.
So just how are these companies getting their hands on our ID numbers, names and banking details?
Volker said there were more than 3 000 companies using the debit order system in South Africa, all of which had lists of their customers and all their details.
So all it takes is for a fraudulent employee in one of those companies, who has access to that information, to copy it and sell it on to an unscrupulous person, and the bank accounts of all those people on the list become fair game.
If that doesn’t convince you to get into the habit of going through your bank statements, line by line, nothing will!
What to do
Spend a bit of time checking your bank statement every month.
If you notice an unauthorised debit order, get a contact number for the company concerned from your bank, and insist that the company provides the “mandate” or proof - in the form of a debit order authority or recorded phone call –- that you agreed to the debit. If you hit a dead end with that process, dispute the debit order with your bank.
They can’t check every debit order, but if a client disputes one, they are obliged to take action, for which they will charge you a fee. When questioned about its “disputed debit order” service fee of R26, Absa said it was a manual one “and requires a significant amount of administration on the part of the bank to fulfil”. “The bank needs to recover the amount disputed from the bank or organisation that raised the debit order in the first place.”
Provide all the details of your case, including dates and your cellphone number, and request that they obtain the mandate, call recording, on your behalf. - Cape Times