A scam by any other name will still smell as rotten

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, honest citizens are not the only ones hungry to make money. Some people want to believe that most people are honest. Especially if they ‘sound’ honest and professional. We are all a little desperate for some good news. We want to believe there is a way forward, that our day will come and that life will be just a little easier.

The dictionary says a scam is a dishonest scheme. It isn’t just mischief. It amounts to fraud. Some cons are easy to spot; some are more difficult.

You have a friendly bank offer

Wouldn’t it be nice if, out of the blue, someone from your bank’s home loan division contacts you, and offers you a 50% discount on your home loan? All you have to do is settle the loan by the next day? (I know of a case where this would have meant a R100 000 ‘gift’!)

But wait, there is more

They will bully you but in a nice way. They will use lots of jargon. The person tells you that, should you decline the offer, you would have to sign a new contract with them. It would completely change the terms of your contract, and because there is so much extra mumbo jumbo in it, you will, in essence, have to pay a LOT more money.

So let us say you are clever

You decide to phone the bank head office. It is the middle of the day, but no one is available to take your call. Do you give up because you hate the shrill tune that keeps repeating endlessly between the advertisements you can now recite off by heart? Do you give in and take the offer, just in case it’s too good to miss?

Ignore it! If it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true!

The sad reality is that this might be an inside job:

  • They have your contact details
  • They have access to your home loan amount

I did contact the bank in question, just by the way. Three calls later I still could not find anyone who was prepared to comment.

Take a deep breath and then ask yourself

  • Why would the bank be prepared to GIVE you thousands of Rands for free, when we all know they make money if you OWE them money?
  • What is the rush, all of a sudden? Regular Joe Soaps are allowed to pay off their mortgages over two or three decades!

YES, dear reader, there STILL is more!

Let’s do a quick rundown of other common scams.

  1. The email reset that is required

    Every week I receive an email that says that unless I reset my email immediately by clicking on the link they so kindly provided, someone is going to delete all my emails. Surely such an email would come from an email address linked to the company that hosts our emails? If you are still in doubt, contact your host company.
  1. Proof of payment link

    Have you recently received an email for ABSA, Standard Bank, FNB telling you that the attachment they have sent you is proof of payment for your bank account? Bingo! It’s a scam! A bank does not use a Gmail address, nor will they send a link using HTML.
  1. The Telephone Scam

    How do you know Mary Ndlovu is who she says she is and that she, indeed, works for your bank? Do you recognize her number? Is it a private number? Or does she just sound as if she COULD possibly work for your bank? This one may be more difficult to spot and take some extra time and effort unless you install software like Truecaller. You will be able to pick it up immediately. If someone claims to be from my bank, the owner of that phone would not be Mary Ndlovu. All official calls from your bank are made using numbers unique to it.
  1. Three Good-to-Remembers
    • A free trial which requires a Credit Card number is not free
    • Unfortunately, Coke or Microsoft will never give you 1 million US dollars
    • There REALLY are no known or unknown Nigerian Generals/long-lost cousins/members of a club you belonged to as a child that wants you to safeguard their country’s fortunes for a fee/keep money in the family because, well, you’re family/want to make amends for bullying you as they now see the error of their ways.

How to avoid a scam

Scams are getting more sophisticated. The common factor is that they want your money and will often know just enough about you to make you comfortable. They will then ask you to ‘confirm’ personal data. Thank you for filling in some of the blanks for them!

  • Don’t ever be rushed to make a decision, no matter how tempting the discount. If it gets too tense, say you’ll call them back or go into the branch yourself.
  • Never give your PINs or passwords over the telephone.
  • Do not fall for stories that draw you into a false sense of thinking you share something in common or to flatter you – it is meant to keep you from asking critical questions.
  • Start by asking your Uncle Google for the scoop on the company.
  • Every company in South Africa has to have a CIPC number. You can check if they have one here.
  • Go onto the HelloPeter website to see what others say – if it’s a scam, chances are someone has moaned about it!
  • Look carefully at the email address. Recently I received a scam from the Department of Health(s).gov.za.

What I do to protect myself

  • I block all unwanted calls and tell Truecaller it is a scam. It helps the next person.
  • I never use the same password for my bank accounts and my magazine subscription
  • I refuse to make advance payments and will insist on proof of a bank account which I verify before creating the payment.
  • I don’t use public WIFI to make bank transfers.
  • I regularly check my credit reports to see who has been lurking in the shadows and spying on my profile.

I think I’ll wait and go into the bank myself

This is a good strategy for scams where you are phoned, but NOT if you think you have lost your credit or debit card, it has been stolen, or if you suspect it’s been compromised. Instead, do the following immediately:

  • Use Internet banking or phone the emergency number to put a temporary block on the card.
  • Change all your passwords immediately.

How to report these crimes

  • You can email information regarding scams to 419scam@saps.org.za or phone 0860 101 248.
  • You should report scams or attempts at scamming you to your bank’s emergency 24 hr number. Ask to be referred to their fraud section. Whilst you’re here – Google and add their number onto the contact list of your phone right now.
  • The Internet Service Providers Association has put together advice on what you need to report cybercrime successfully. You can download the document using this address.

It isn’t nice to be suspicious. Life is already so complicated and scary. However, imagine how much chaos and hardship you can avoid by just pausing to take a deep breath and then asking yourself; ‘does this sound too good to be true? Is there any real reason to rush?’

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