Make sure you don’t fall prey to money marauders. By Helen Wallace
Whether it is a suspicious email in your inbox from an affluent Nigerian prince or money going missing from your account, odds are you have, at some time, been exposed to a scam. And you’re not alone. More than four million people fall victim to fraud every year and suffer a financial loss as a result.
This may leave you wondering how to be safe in a world where dishonesty is rife and everyone wants to make a quick buck. Well, if you exercise extra vigilance, you can avoid being fooled.
So what is a scam? ‘There are many different kinds out there, but if you’ve been scammed, it generally means that you’ve been a victim of fraud,’ explains Angelique Ruzicka, editor of personal finance website justmoney.co.za.
‘One of the ways people are enticed to part with their money is by phishing scams, where legitimate-looking fake emails, supposedly from your bank or insurance company – complete with a company logo – are sent asking clients to reveal information, such as PIN or ID numbers or account details, which will result in them losing money or having their identity stolen,’ says Angelique.
Built on sand
Another type of scam is the pyramid scheme. ‘It involves a person or group persuading unsuspecting people to invest in a “get-rich-quick” offer, while also convincing them to entice others to join in exchange for commission or other incentive,’ explains Angelique. These money-making collaborations tend to unravel quickly and, generally, it is only the ones at the top of the pyramid who end up coining it.’
Get the scoop
Another scam common in South Africa is skimming. ‘In this method, scammers obtain bank card details by lifting the important details, such as CVV digits, the expiry date and card number off the card when it is used at ATMs or point-of-sale devices. They will then use this information to purchase items online or over the phone,’ Angelique explains. Criminals are becoming more proficient at pulling off these kinds of tricks, with many people losing money this way daily.
Fool me once
So, how can you tell the difference between the real deal and a scam? Take heed of the following:
You should not be asked to give out personal information via email or over the phone. And never do, even if it is supposedly at the request of one of your service providers. If you are asked to disclose these details, it could be a con. Rather visit your nearest branch to speak to someone in person.
Check that any ATM you use has nothing unusual in or around the card slot and that there aren’t any strangers lurking around trying to offer you assistance – this has all the hallmarks of an attempted skimming.
If you are approached to work with or for a group and source more members, supposedly to make a lot of money quickly, and especially if there are inexplicable upfront costs involved (admin/joining fees, starter sales packs), this could be a pyramid scheme and you could lose more than you gain.
• Worried that you’ve been scammed? Immediately call your bank’s emergency line so they can block your account and prevent any transactions being made until it’s safe to do so.
• If you’ve received a dubious email from one of your service providers, contact the company to verify its authenticity. This way, the company will also know about the scam and they can alert other clients.
• And finally, if you open a message that claims to be from a wealthy African prince, offering you lots of money if you help him out, just delete it!
Remember, anyone can be targeted, so vigilance and discretion when it comes to your account details are key to keeping your cash safe.
‘Make sure that, when you use a computer to access your accounts, it’s from a safe location – and also that your computer is up to date with the latest security software,’ advises Angelique. ‘If you get any suspicious or unsolicited emails, contact the company involved to verify whether the communication you have received is indeed legitimate. Also, use a search engine to verify text – scam artists often reuse the same lines.’