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Unless you’re a recluse with no internet, cellphone or bank card, chances are you have encountered a fraudster intent on scamming you. The more advanced the technology, it seems, the more imaginative the con.
Like most South Africans, I receive an attempted scam via e-mail almost daily, most often pretending to come from my bank, prompting me to do something online that would result in my account being cleaned out.
And recently I had my credit card “skimmed” at a popular Joburg restaurant and within 24 hours R4 000 was withdrawn from my account.
Hawks spokesman MacIntosh Polela says cyber crime costs SA millions every year.
“Only a few will respond and among those who do, very few will pay the money,” he says.
But someone will always take the bait, unfortunately, which is why scamming continues to be a widespread scourge.
The only defence against the scam is awareness. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. And never respond to an e-mail, SMS or phone call requiring you to submit personal information, even if it’s in the form of a threat to your account being suspended owing to some third-party interference.
Never participate in any “sale of goods”, “survey”, “competition”, “lottery” or “inheritance” scheme requiring any personal information over the phone or the internet.
If you’re selling something, confirm payment with your bank before releasing the goods, and if you don’t remember entering a competition or buying a lottery ticket, you haven’t won anything.
The top 10 scams to look out for:
The 419 heartbreaker scam
The 419 scams have been around since the dawn of the internet, the oldest one speaking of an inheritance that the sender is due, but your bank account details are needed to deposit the funds, in return for which you’ll get a percentage.
But the 419 scam is always evolving. The latest is the “419 heartbreaker” scam that preys on women on online dating sites. A man will initiate a correspondence with you and romance you. Then comes the very plausible reason for why they need you to advance them some money.
These are the e-mails purportedly from your bank requesting various online actions, all to gain access to your bank accounts. Phindile, a young woman who got caught, says she got an e-mail from her bank prompting her to verify her details. What she didn’t realise was that the link provided was to a fraudulent website.
“The website page that I clicked onto looked exactly the same as my bank’s site, and I even received an RVN number (a one-time PIN) on my cellphone, so I thought it was all legitimate. Next thing I knew, R15 300 went out of my account.”
In all these attacks, it’s your banking information that the fraudsters are after. Without the account holder’s banking details and passwords, the fraud would simply not be possible. Don’t go there, ever.
SA has one of the highest cellphone penetration rates in the world, so it’s a wide open field for the SMS version of phishing.
Many people have received an SMS supposedly from your bank requesting you to verify your account details. In some cases, an alarmist message requests you to make a call rather than go to a false link.
The person on the other end of the line is a fraudster adept at eliciting critical information, including your PIN code. Remember, banks will never asked for your PIN over the phone.
False payment confirmations
Lyl, a complainant on www.hellopeter.com, says she advertised furniture on Gumtree that was bought by someone called Max.
“He said he’d deposited money into my account, and I received an SMS confirming this, but when I checked with the bank, no money had been cleared,” she says.
Always verify that the money is indeed in your account before releasing the goods.
Criminals and unethical developers are now using premium-rated SMSes to defraud people via the cellphone applications they download. Google recently removed 22 applications from the Android market because they conned people into agreeing to premium SMS charges.
“The charges are hidden by misleading terms and conditions, and the application’s sign-up process doesn’t give the customers any option other than to agree to the premium charges,” says Pieter Streicher, MD of BulkSMS.com. Check your phone bills for any unusual deductions. And only download the more popular apps.
“You also need to check the permissions you grant the application on installation,” says Streicher.
One of the outcomes of a phishing scam could be a SIM swop. The fraudster already has your cellphone number and can get enough additional information to request a SIM swop from your network operator. They then have access to both your bank account details and the SIM card needed to complete transactions. Fortunately, the networks have tightened up on their SIM swop processes, says Streicher.
“However, if your cellphone ever stops working for no reason, you should contact your bank and network operator immediately.”
Credit card skimming
Card skimming usually takes place when fraudsters capture card data on devices similar to those used for legitimate point-of-sale or ATM transactions. The devices fit snugly over the card slot on an ATM and can even include a camera to record the PIN. But the main point of compromise is when you hand over your credit card.
I know how easy it is if you’re not concentrating. In my case, the waiter took my card away briefly and when he returned, I entered my PIN without covering with my other hand. Never let your card out of your sight and cover the PIN pad.
Cellphone users need to be aware that unscrupulous Wasps (wireless application service providers) can bill any SA cell number and can even detect and record your cellphone number if you browse their websites using your cellphone.
Unlike the desktop internet, where credit card numbers need to be entered and orders need to be confirmed, on a cellphone all that is needed to bill you is your number.
A notorious one sends you an SMS saying you’re now subscribed to it, at a cost of R20 a day.
The Wasp Association advises sending “stop” in reply to a message received. Check your phone bills for charges you didn’t authorise.
If you’re buying anything expensive, beware of fakes. Just recently, police arrested four men who tried to con a businessman into buying fake gems, which were ostensibly worth R250 000.
These scamsters call you, claiming to be from Microsoft. They tell you they have found out you have a problem with your computer, ask you questions and prompt you to do all sorts of things with it “to sort out the problem”. Their aim is to get into your computer remotely. Alternatively, you’ll be told you’ve won the “Microsoft lottery”, and that Microsoft “requires credit card information”. Another one is an e-mail from “Microsoft” requesting a “security update”. Don’t go there. - Cape Argus