These are South Africa’s 20 most common scams

Scams are taking place more often than many would think. Photo: Geralt from Pixabay

Scams are taking place more often than many would think. Photo: Geralt from Pixabay

Published Mar 24, 2021


CAPE TOWN - We all know someone who has been scammed. Many times we think “I would never be so gullible”, but believe us when we say scammers have upped their game.

Here we give you a list of South Africa’s top 20 most common scams. You never know – it might just save you.

1. My Life Change 24/7 or ‘MLC 24/7’

This is a style of “Ponzi scheme” whereby group administrators gather eager first-time investors and ask them to contribute different sums of money in the hope of gaining a return far superior to any offered by commercial banks or investment houses.

For example: invest R5,000 by paying it directly into someone's account. The person who you are paying has waited the duration of their chosen term and is now “withdrawing” their money.

By doing so, you have to wait a few weeks, your “term”, in order for someone to pay their initial investment into your bank account which serves as ”your withdrawal“. This continues until someone is left without being paid. Or the administrators have enough money in their pot to disappear.

2. “Overnight” online brokers

With the forex trading and exchange traded funds (ETFs) being touted at unprecedented levels over the internet, more and more brokers have sprung to life overnight. The majority of the time, due to stringent tax and financial laws in South Africa, these brokers do not register their company in SA, leaving you open to financial loss should they jump ship.

Some of the ways customers are scammed include failure to withdraw their money from the brokerage account, freezing of client accounts once they have deposited.

3. Fake real-estate agents

Suspects prey on victims who have little information about the property market and who do not understand the process of buying or selling a property.

Fake agents pose as if they are preparing to facilitate the entire transaction, thereafter the suspect will prepare falsified contracts and ask the client to deposit large sums of money which are to serve as a security deposit for the property. Once the deposit has been made, the suspect is not heard from again.

4. The deflective deposit – buying online

With more and more online marketplaces opening up, fraudulent transactions are rife. One common way sellers are scammed online is when a buyer asks to meet and pick up the product. The buyer then agrees to the price and makes a “deposit” into the seller’s account. The money does not reflect in the seller’s account, but they do receive a pop-up notification from someone claiming to be the buyer. After the transaction is completed, the seller is left with nothing because the payment made by the buyer turns out to be false and the money does not come through.

5. WhatsApp gifting groups

A similar modus operandi to that of the MLC 24/7, but a little more community based. The WhatsApp gifting group groups together a team of five people, all of whom agree to pay a sum of money into an account, wait for a period of time and then hopefully withdraw their profits. The participants can also earn money by selling the idea to newcomers, who will be put onto a group via an invitation link. Many people have confused the gifting group with a stokvel, but it was in fact a scheme with no proper rules and legislation.

6. Online love scams

While life in South Africa may be hectic, we all know everyone seeks to find that one person they can love. This is just what scammers want as they prowl for lonely women on dating sites. Suspects engage in conversation, and make their unsuspecting victims trust them to a point where they share “everything”.

This is when they usually strike their prey. These scammers usually live “very far away” and their “hearts ache” to see the love of their lives, but they have no money.

These long-term scams usually start off small, with asking for money for data or airtime; however, as time goes by, they manage to swindle their victims out of thousands of rands.

7. Building/renovations

While many try to turn their houses into homes, there is no shortage of suspects lurking in the background, ready to snatch some hard-earned money.

Suspects usually advertise via social media pages about their “great” renovations along with images taken from the internet. Eager and hasty clients wanting to live the life will usually make contact. The suspect may not run away at once; they usually come to your house, do inspections and take measurements. They get you quotes, at times material, and draw up a genuine contract. Clients wooed by the glamour and “cheap” pricing pay the 50% or 60% deposit. Most times these suspects even come to a client’s home and lay a foundation, but as soon as the cheque has cleared they disappear, leaving victims with nothing but a poorly laid foundation and a chunk of their savings gone with the wind.

8. Buy/selling goods

This happens more often than you’d think. Buying and selling online has become a way of life, and while this seems to be convenient, it has also opened up a new world of scams.

Most times sellers advertise their products across various social media platforms, open up pages and even gain a fan base of their “items” along with fake reviews.

As soon as an interested party engages, the conversation is taken private, most likely to WhatsApp, where banking details, courier details and more will be discussed. Many times victims will be enticed into scoring on a “buy one get on free deal”.

As soon as the victim has paid in the money and provides proof of payment, the social media pages and phone numbers are no longer active.

Many times these scammers prefer to have money sent to them via retailers such as Shoprite or Pep.

9. Lottery winners

We all have received that one SMS at some point stating we have won a few million, from a number we do not recognise.

These scammers always end off their SMS urging you to call a cellphone number on how to get your winnings.

When the victims call the number, they are told to pay a small amount compared with their “winnings”, for “tax purposes”.

As soon as the money is paid in, the scammers usually disappear.

10. Vehicles

Buying a vehicle has to be one of the most stressful purchases one makes; however, first-time buyers with no guidance usually fall prey to this scam.

Many times vehicles are advertised in newspapers, online sites and on social media pages and buyers end up buying a broken piece of scrap.

Fixing the vehicle would cost more than you paid, or the damage is usually irreparable.

11. Job opportunities

South Africa has a high unemployment rate and people are willing to do just about anything not to starve.

Many times people applying for jobs are told they have received the job, but there is always a catch: a payment for the job must be made, personal documentation needs to be handed over and many times sex is on offer.

At times, people have done exactly what was asked of them, but upon return to the “company” the space has been vacated and your “employers” have simply vanished.

12. Football scholarships/signings

There is no lack of talent within our country, and the only thing many footballers really need is a break. However, scams of fake football clubs, clinics and even sister clubs have been springing up all over the country.

“Scouts” approach players, claiming to have seen their talent and wanting to sign them. They will usually provide documentation which looks legit, has a letterhead on, or even have a fake letter from the South African Football Association (SAFA).

Players will be requested to give over a hefty amount of money for their gear, accommodation, food and transport, and will be told they will be earning this back “tenfold”.

13. Selling Wendy houses/Nutec houses

A nation stricken with a shortage of houses, many people have opted for alternative housing, and purchasing a Wendy house or Nutec home does not come cheap.

Eager potential buyers usually come across these scammers as they advertise via pamphlets and social media.

Payment will be made into a fake company account and the buyer will receive nothing, not even a log.

14. Naked pictures

This has become a classic scam and many times the victims know their perpetrators.

Victims will usually receive a message from an unknown number claiming they have naked pictures of them (that they took or someone either took). The person will say they have the last “batch" of images and will not share it across social media – which would usually mean social death to many, even potential financial loss or loss of their relationship.

However, the scammer will offer an alternative and ask for gratification in order to make the problem “go away”.

15. Funeral policies

While many people believe in being prepared for the worst, scammers thrive on vulnerability, and fake pop-up funeral parlours offering policies are more prevalent than you’d think, and affect all religions.

Most times, the deceased’s relatives will only find out once a claim is to be made. Many times when their “no claim payout” is due, victims will find out their funeral service no longer exists, even though they have been making monthly payments.

16. Road Accident Fund claims

We have seen more attorneys being sentenced this year for scamming their clients out of their successful payouts from the Road Accident Fund.

Clients approach firms to seek assistance when claiming, but once the payout is processed the firm takes all, or a big portion, of the payout and only pays the client some of it, or nothing at all.

17. SIM swap

This usually happens when a blocked or private number calls, claiming to be from your service provider, stating someone is trying to do a SIM swap. They claim to be able to stop it but will need to ask security questions. This is usually when they get your personal details, such as date of birth, address and identity number. This often leads to identity theft, house robberies and similar.

18. Social security grant scam (Sassa)

Sadly, most victims in this scam are pensioners. Usually, when pension grants payouts are processed, scammers hang out at local malls and ATMs, waiting for a victim.

Many times they will forcefully assist the elderly at the ATM and in turn swap out their SA Social Security Agency cards with fake ones after they have seen the PIN.

Another scam includes withdrawing money on behalf of the elderly and handing the money over in an envelope. Once the envelope is opened, it's usually only filled with newspapers and the perpetrators are long gone.

19. The bogus college scandal

This was ushered into the spotlight in early 2019 after numerous reports by students who claimed they had fallen victim to bogus institutions. The students ended up paying their tuition fees to fake colleges that had no relevant accreditation. The students were then left with unrecognised qualifications.

20. The R99 call centre scam

This scam, which occurred during 2015, entailed a call centre debiting client accounts without their authorisation. What made the scam so deceptive in its modus operandi was that the call centre owners knew that debits would not reflect on client bank statements, thereby going unnoticed. They would deduct anything from R49 to R300 at a time. The majority of these call centres were based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

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