Beware of scam artists during the festive season, consumers warned

Scam alert

Published Dec 5, 2023

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The National Consumer Commission (NCC) says it has noticed a spike in schemes and scams that leave South Africans out of pocket, including con artists impersonating companies, investment and financial scams and pyramid schemes.

The NCC said it had partnered with SA Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) and added the Yima tool to its website to enable consumers to protect themselves before parting with their money.

The Yima website allows consumers to check if a website is legitimate, verify the identity of a person they are dealing with, report scams and to find scams that are currently active.

Nazia Karrim, head of product development at SAFPS, said Yima online reporting tools showed that advanced fee and investment scams have been the most prevalent, making up 33% and 24% of incident volumes, respectively.

“Online scams, specifically those related to goods and services like vehicle purchase scams, have also been rampant.

“One of the emerging trends is ancestry scams, which exploit African cultural beliefs. Victims are often duped by fraudsters pretending to be traditional healers,” she said

Karrim said the losses are substantial, sometimes even involving the sexual abuse of female victims. Another scam that consumers have been warned about has been circulating on social media.

In a voice note, a man from the Western Cape, warned the public to be aware of scam artists who are targeting people in busy areas, who have the tap-to-pay function activated on their banking cards.

However, the SA Banking Risk Information Centre states on its website that this type of scam is unlikely as accessing near-field communication enabled Point of Sale devices involves a rigorous vetting process by the issuing bank. While collusion with a merchant could be possible, it was unlikely as the financial reward would be low compared with the consequences of being caught, it said.

Karrim added that other scams to be aware of included fraudsters impersonating employees from popular businesses, adding that they mostly claim to be from telecoms businesses.

“They claim that the consumer’s account or service has been compromised or hacked and for them to assist, they need to verify the One Time Password (OTP) being sent to your device.

“The moment you do this, they purchase vouchers for popular supermarkets that have partnered with the service providers. They cash those vouchers out almost instantaneously because they have people waiting at those supermarkets to receive those voucher numbers,” she said.

There are also many holiday or Christmas scam offers, she warned.

Karrim noted that victims were consumers who have low credit scores or consumers whose disposable income falls below the required minimum to qualify for a loan.

The NCC said an issue that frustrates regulators is that scam victims are coming forward to report them too late or not at all. NCC spokesperson Phetho Ntaba said by the time they investigated, the scammers could not be found.

When shopping online, Ntaba advised consumers to be careful, especially if they have followed a link from a social media site or an online advert.

“To be sure one is browsing the correct site, one must consider going back out of that website and going to that brand’s website directly to ensure it is authentic,” said Ntaba. To access the Yima tool, go to www.yima.org.za or access it via Quick Links on the NCC’s website at www.thencc.org.za

The Mercury