Thuli Madonsela and Helen Zille scammed by money-seeking fraudsters impersonating a friend, bank

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and DA federal chairperson Helen Zille.

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and DA federal chairperson Helen Zille.

Published Jun 18, 2023


Durban – Former public protector Thuli Madonsela and DA federal chairperson Helen Zille both fell victim to scams this month.

On June 7, Madonsela tweeted that both she and a friend had lost thousands of rand to a scam artist who had “hijacked” the WhatsApp profile of a mutual friend.

“He was pretending to be that friend. It was only when the scammer became so greedy and brazen that my son and I figured out the scam and warned other friends. WhatsApp ID theft or hacking is real,” she wrote in the tweet.

— Prof Thuli Madonsela #KindnessBuilds (@ThuliMadonsela3) June 7, 2023

Zille tweeted on June 16, that she was scammed by fraudsters.

“I want to use my experience to help others avoid being caught too,” she wrote.

Zille said she received a call and a woman introduced herself as being from her bank’s anti-fraud department. The woman then asked if she had authorised a debit order of R5 000 from her cheque account.

— Helen Zille (@helenzille) June 16, 2023

Zille added that the woman verified her details.

“She gave me her name, my ID and bank account number, and my married name which were all correct.”

However, once the woman asked for her one-time password (OTP), Zille’s husband became suspicious and advised her that she was being scammed.

He called the bank from his phone while Zille remained on the line with the woman. The bank confirmed that she was being scammed.

“Looking back, there were red lights flashing the whole way, but I ignored them because the assurances and the props (SMSes, etc) reassured me. I always thought I was too savvy to get caught, and wondered how clever people get duped so often,” said Zille.

Zille said she now knows that the fraudsters know your details and they are familiar with the bank’s modus operandi.

“They pick transactions that you are not familiar with in order to catch you. And they combine just the right balance of politeness and urgency to make you co-operate with them,” she said.

The Southern African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) said the South African fraud landscape has increased significantly over the past three years, with impersonation fraud, money muling and forged documentation being the most significant challenges it has dealt with.

The organisation said the latest SAFPS fraud statistics indicate that impersonation fraud has increased by 356% over the past year. This can be attributed to data leaks and compromised personal data, which has shown a significant recent increase in in the country.

Manie van Schalkwyk, the CEO of SAFPS, said South Africa is investing heavily in digitisation to catch up with the rest of the world and while digitisation will revolutionise the South African economy in the future, it has risks.

“According to a 2021 Interpol report, South Africa tops Africa in cyber threats and is third in the world, with 230 million threats detected in 2021. Of these, 219 million threats were related to emails,” he said.

He said scams whereby fraudsters assume the identity of a victim are also a significant challenge and showed a 236% increase over the same period in 2022.

“There has been a marked increase in the use of forged documentation, which has increased by 62% over the same period in 2022. Other forged documentation instances include fake driver’s licences, which can be used as a form of identification when applying for credit. This is a risk that the SAFPS is keeping an eye on in the future,” said Van Schalkwyk.