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Crooks watching your internet use

By Wendy Knowler Time of article published Dec 2, 2013

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Johannesburg - It’s the season to be scammed. Yes, dear readers, the fraudsters are in full force right now, desperate to catch as many consumers as possible in the annual festive retail splurge.

Most of them have used the internet to set their bait, and now lie in wait for the inevitable victims to transfer money into their bank accounts.

They’ve crafted adverts for insanely cheap cameras and other electronic goods, and have professional looking invoices on standby for those who respond; they’ve got photos of adorable “pure bred” puppies for those who will believe they are really corresponding by e-mail with an animal lover whose main concern is to find good homes for their “babies”; and others have posted adverts for apartments to rent in prime coastal locations, purporting to be the owners or rental agents.

Because they can. And because there are enough trusting, unquestioning people with internet access to ensure that their bank accounts get a steady injection of cash.

Your defence is common sense, and a critical approach.

Accept nothing at face value. Be extremely wary of buying goods unseen, on the basis of a free online classifieds advert placed by someone who provides only a cellphone number or e-mail address.

Rather stick to well-known, established retail sites.

When it comes to renting holiday apartments or cottages, ensure that the person who provides you with payment details has a right to act as a rental agent and accept your money. Use the internet to do your sleuthing.

Those advertising goods for sale also need to be on particular high alert for scam artists pretending to have deposited money into their accounts, when what they’ve really done is deposited a dud cheque, which bounces – after you’ve handed over the goods.

Last month Cape Town art dealer Charl Bezuidenhout was phoned by a man about a painting he’d seen on his website.

The dealer e-mailed a quote to the man, who responded by saying he’d do an electronic funds transfer (EFT) that evening.

“The next day he called again, asking whether we’d received payment,” Bezuidenhout said.

“I had just received a text message from my bank – FNB – confirming that the money had been deposited into my account. I checked to make sure that the text message came from a legitimate source. It seemed fine and I agreed to release the painting, which he had collected that same day.”

The message read: “FNB R35 000 (cheq/s) deposited to cheq a/c (number) @ Constanc Branch” followed by a reference name and the date.

Two days later, the bank told Bezuidenhout the payment had been reversed.

“I was told that the money was paid by cheque and that I should have waited seven days until it cleared before accepting that the payment was successful. They refused to take responsibility and told me that I had to accept the loss.”

Bezuidenhout feels that the SMS which FNB sent him was too vague.

“The fact that it was a cheque deposit and that it wouldn’t clear for a week was indicated by one cryptic misspelt word in brackets – cheq/s.

“To me, a person not in the banking or financial world, it meant any number of things – that the money came from a cheque account, or that if it was paid by cheque, maybe it came from an account holder from the same bank or perhaps even a bank-guaranteed cheque?

“How was I supposed to know that ‘deposited’ meant ‘not available’? The general message seemed to be that the money was in my account.

“If the text message was not to be taken as a final indication that the money was in my account, why not relay that message to me?

“Would it be so difficult to add ‘Funds not cleared’ or something similar?

“I feel that the bank neglected to inform me properly about the nature of the payment and that as a result, I lost a large sum of money. Simply put, the bank had a responsibility to inform me better.”

I thought he had a point. SMSes are, by definition, intended to be short, but the words “funds not cleared” wouldn’t add add much length to such notifications, while potentially sparing the recipient a big loss.

So I contacted FNB about this case and posed the question: “Given the extent of this form of fraud, and the potential confusion in the minds of recipients over payment with a cheque and payment being made from a cheque account, does FNB feel that the wording of the confirmation SMS in question is adequate to protect its account holders?”

FNB’s head of product, business banking, Sanjeev Orie, feels the wording is fine as it is.

“The client’s inContact message did not say that the funds were available. The message is clear in informing the client that there was a cheque deposit made,” he said. “inContact is designed to assist clients to track activity on their accounts and minimise potential unauthorised transactions.

“Unfortunately this client was a victim of a fraud scam. Clients should always check their online banking to verify the availability of funds.”

You have been warned. - The Star

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