19 August 2021

    James Francis

    Scams that you should know (And How To Spot Them)

    Watch out for scams! Criminals are constantly trying to cheat people out of their hard-earned money. 

    Fraudsters are shamelessly taking advantage of the global pandemic and dire economic conditions to lure victims with a variety of scams. They often promise quick rewards or manipulate human emotions such as fear, anxiety and uncertainty to trick victims into acting out of character. 

    Here are some of the scams you may  encounter, and how to identify and avoid them.

    Types of scams

    Online surveys

    A number of scams circulating via social media platforms ask you to take a survey about a product, service, retailer, or company via a link provided. On completion of the survey you’re required to send messages to a specified number of contacts in order to receive a prize. Participating in such surveys puts you at risk of disclosing personal information, downloading malware (malicious software) or in other variations of this scam, being defrauded when you’re required to pay a small fee in order to claim the prize.

    Email phishing

    A phishing email often appears legitimate, but it’s entirely fake and malicious. Email phishing attacks attempt to trick victims to click on a link or download attachments, which ultimately leads to disclosure of personal and/or confidential information. Although the goal of any phishing scam is always to steal personal information, it can also be used to install malware (malicious software) on your device. Phishing attacks usually take place via email, but fraudsters sometimes use other channels, such as SMS (smishing) and voice (vishing).

    Vaccine eligibility scams

    Scammers have no conscience or scruples – they will even use the COVID-19 pandemic and current vaccine programmes to con people. They claim to provide easy access to vaccines in exchange for a small fee/payment and/or your personal details such as ID number, home address and bank account numbers. Using scare tactics, they inform victims that they won’t get their vaccine without medical aid or health insurance. None of that is true. You can register for a free vaccine through the official Department of Health portal, and no one can be turned away from a vaccine venue because they don't have private cover.

    Cryptocurrency investment scams

    Cryptocurrency is a type of digital currency that only exists electronically. The boom and hype around it has spawned a new variation of scams claiming that you can get rich quick and realise huge returns on investment. In this type of scam, fraudsters offer to sell you cryptocurrency, often referred to as virtual currency or tokens, at very low prices. Or they may try to persuade you to invest in a new, unknown or obscure cryptocurrency specifically set up to steal investors’ money. Given that crypto trading and currency is poorly regulated and widely misunderstood, it provides the perfect cover for a variety of fraudulent schemes.

    Fake charities/donations

    Scammers frequently impersonate legitimate charities or set up fake ones to take advantage of people’s generosity and compassion. While these approaches for donations occur all year round, they intensify over periods of real disasters or emergencies, such as pandemics, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, etc. In some instances they may even purport to represent charities that conduct medical research or support disease sufferers and their families. Scammers may approach you in person on the street or go door to door. They may also set up fake websites that look similar to those of legitimate charities, or call or email you requesting a donation.

    Fake employment/job offers

    It’s particularly infuriating that criminals set out to target unemployed people who are desperate for jobs. But this happens very often and fraudsters are essentially after two things: money or personal information. The scam entails a fraudster contacting the job seeker by email, telephone or via social media and offering them a job that requires very little effort for high returns. In order to initiate the process or secure the job, the victim is told that they’re required to pay a fee and/or provide personal information. The job is, however, non-existent, and after defrauding the victim or obtaining their personal information, the scammer disappears or breaks contact with the victim.

    SASSA scams

    Scammers are also known to occasionally hit the streets and specifically target recipients of social (SASSA) grants. They go around posing as SASSA officials and offer to check if beneficiaries’ social grant cards are still valid/working by swiping them through a device. This is in fact a skimming device that copies the card information (and captures the PIN that has been keyed in). It then allows the scammer to duplicate this information on a cloned card and fraudulently withdraw the SASSA grant.

    Debt relief scams

    Fraudsters also prey on consumers’ vulnerability, offering debt solutions or promises that they can reduce your debt in exchange for a small fee. But be aware that third parties in South Africa cannot write off your debt, nor can someone act as an agent to find you a debt counsellor. Only a registered debt counsellor can put you under debt review and if someone who is not registered charges you a fee to place you in debt counselling, this is fraud. Always work through a debt counsellor who is accredited with the National Credit Regulator.

    Voucher scams

    This type of scam is widespread on WhatsApp and other messaging groups. The fraudsters claim that a popular brand/retailer is offering big discounts with online vouchers. Victims are enticed by the offer of these vouchers at unbelievably cheap prices. The offers may include a request to provide personal information, which the scammer uses to install malicious software (malware) on their device. Another variation of this scam requires users to pay admin fees before vouchers can be released.

    Signs of a scam

    Fraudsters come up with new scams all the time, so it’s important to be vigilant and stay abreast of the different types of scams and the possible indicators or warning signs that accompany them:

    • Urgent action required. Scams tend to create some type of urgency – often a  “problem” that you must fix immediately or a unique “opportunity” that you must act on quickly. Rely on your instincts and don’t be pressured into acting or responding to any offer and/or communication. 
    • Too good to be true. Check or research the facts objectively, and use your judgment, experience, and gut instinct. Remember that if the offer looks too good to be true, chances are it’s a scam.
    • Requests for money. Be extremely careful about any communications or requests for money, fees, or upfront payments for whatever reason – this should immediately raise your suspicions.
    • Impersonating trusted brands/businesses. Scammers will often imitate a reputable company or known brand. If an offer claims to be from a specific company, check the company website for confirmation (see point below to see how). Also check out social media channels before acting on or responding to the offer.
    • Slightly altered URL. Check website addresses before clicking on any links. Hover your mouse over links to see if the URL matches the company name; fraudsters set up lookalike websites that appear almost identical to the real site, save for tiny differences in the URL. 
    • Unsecure URL. When required to provide personal or confidential information online, always check that the URL includes https, indicating that the site/page is secure. 
    • Unsolicited emails/messages. Never respond to unsolicited emails or messages. If in doubt, contact the company/brand through independently obtained contact details or official channels, using a simple Google search to obtain this information.
    • Misspelt/odd names. Scrutinise email addresses for odd domain names, additional characters and/or misspelt company names. Exercise caution if it's from a freemail service or a domain you don't know.
    • Requests for personal details. Be careful about sharing your personal details online or on social media networks. Don’t provide birth dates, addresses, names of spouses, children or relatives, etc. unless you’re sure the website or sender is legitimate and known to you.
    • Asking you to share a PIN/OTP. A legitimate service provider, financial institution, or company will never ask you to verify your login and password information or to share your PINs or OTPs with its employees.
    • Unsolicited work opportunities. Be suspicious of unsolicited work opportunities or overgenerous job offers, particularly those that offer a 'guaranteed income' or require you to pay an upfront fee.
    • Charity links. If you want to donate to a charity or good cause, go to the charity website of your choice and directly submit your payment. Never click on any links in emails or other messages.
    • Request to click on link. Refrain from clicking on links and opening attachments, especially in unsolicited emails.

    You can check a site’s reputation at Google's safe browsing site

    James Francis