Cape Town - Since the pandemic began social media has become a common platform on which we keep in touch while adhering to social distance regulations. However, scammers have become craftier at defrauding people in their most vulnerable state.
Private investigator Willem van Romburgh said scammers have developed new skillsets to reel people in. Ranging from algorithm spyware on computers to just prey on ordinary people, online Facebook scams have become even more frequent.
During lockdown, Didi Divine started a small business in which she stocks eggs in bulk and then sells them. Due to financial constraints, her husband could not travel to get the eggs so she resorted to other avenues, that is when she came across Maphanda Poultry.
“I saw their advert on Facebook selling twelve crates of eggs, with 30 eggs each. I took their WhatsApp number, added them and spoke to them. I even asked questions, and they answered accordingly. Just to be sure, I even asked if they were not a scam as I'm going send R1 560 to people I don't know, so they said if I don't trust them then I should not buy. Nevertheless I went ahead with the purchase, they sent me an invoice and from there I thought they were legitimate.
“After I sent my proof of payment they asked for an additional cost of insurance for my purchase at the cost of R900, that's when I asked for my money back. But it was too late, they blocked me from all social media platforms, never answered or returned my calls.
“I was so heartbroken as I took our last money to get stock, hoping I'll save even more because I'm not going to struggle anymore as they will deliver to my doorstep. Even the banks couldn't help trace the payments, no result came from that ordeal and I just wish these people are found and are brought to book,” said Divine.
Maphanda Poultry did not comment by the time of going to print.
Catherine Rodgers runs an online business and has a team of resellers who sell products for her. After getting into contact with a seller, Rodgers found her products to be legitimate, so she carried on with the transactions.
Rogers said the seller had her own import business and had approached her by saying she can get the Playstation 5 combos online from the USA. The seller seemed legitimate, but once she started to check up on the business name and looking for the company registration, she found the company had been liquidated somewhere in 2010.
“The last signatory member did not match the person signing the documents that were sent to her. I then received a tracking number that was linked to a website but it turns out the website was not clean or neatly rounded off. When I tried to track them, the contact info and address said it was based in the UK but she was getting stock from the USA.
“After this, I was in distress. When I checked the address on the invoice, it linked to an Apple store in a mall in California. I paid over R14 000 worth of stock and all this misleading information made me uneasy. When I asked for a refund it was and still is a mission to get a hold of her and get back my money.
“This honestly makes surviving and building up a name for yourself and your business hard. I’m sitting with a huge loss and no stock. I need to pay that back. I'm terrified. Clients think I stole from them, but I didn’t. I don’t even make that much money in a month. Now my name and my business are on the line and she doesn't care,” said Rodgers.
Private investigator Van Romburgh there is no perfect plan to avoid becoming the victim of scammers. Scamming has changed a lot from the way scams were done, where you were offered an investment opportunity in a scheme that was too good to be true.
“During our involvement in several high- and low-profile fraud investigations we have seen that their ’workday’ literally consists of searching for opportunities to scam people. They often jump onto the bandwagon of matters of the day. For example, when it is a World Cup soccer people start winning World Cup soccer lotteries, etc,” said Van Romburgh.
“Basic checks to see if it is a scam, is to google the e-mail address and cellphone numbers together with the words scam, complaints, and fraud. There should be no gaps between the numbers, otherwise you are going to get millions of hits. Google the seller’s addresses provided on invoices or anything else. Google again with the words scam, complaints, and fraud.
“Text messages from the banks informing you of a payment made to you must contain a unique transaction number. Use that number to check the transaction with the bank. Call and make sure. When getting an email hover your mouse cursor over the sender’s e-mail address. It will reveal a little block, which you can click on to reveal the actual email address of the sender. The address you see in the email is what the sender wants you to see,’’ said Van Romburgh.
A Facebook spokesperson said they do not want the social media platform to be used to scam people.
“To fight scammers we have strict policies to prevent and disrupt scams and fraudulent activity. When content violates these rules we take it down. We also remove repeat offenders from our service and co-operate with law enforcement when they make valid requests for information related to scams. We use a combination of technology, human review and user reports to find and remove violating content and we encourage people to report suspicious content when they see it, so we can investigate.”