If you have access to the Internet, a cellphone, bank cards or a car, the chances are you’ve been scammed. And the more advanced the technology, it seems, the more imaginative the con.
According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric), South Africa has the third highest number of cyber-crime victims in the world, which results in a loss of about R2.2 billion each year.
This means that, every time you log onto your smartphone, computer or open an e-mail, you are at risk of being exposed to cyber-crime.
In its 2017 report, cyber security firm Norton said, globally, 978 million consumers were affected by cyber-crime with losses totalling $172 billion.
Pietermaritzburg central police station spokesperson Captain Khosi Khonjelwayo said scammers have become harder to spot and far more slick.
“In the past you could spot them a mile away. Now it is a quality approach; they are much more professional. The English is perfect, and they use quality documents,” said Khonjelwayo.
She said that, while only a few people will respond, and among those who respond very few of them will pay the money, someone will always take the bait, unfortunately, which is why scamming continues to be a widespread scourge.
The Witness previously reported that Mbalenhle Nsuntsha, from Edendale, lost R11 300 after the SIM card in her cellphone was hacked.
Nsuntsha said that, soon after her cellphone SIM card had stopped working, she was persuaded to do a SIM swap.
She then watched in horror as message after message appeared on her phone, indicating that numerous transactions were paid out of her account.
She said the bogus agent had sounded very professional and managed to convince her that she really worked for the cellular network.
Kyle Condon, managing director of D&K Management Consultants, said he believed that people fell victim to this crime because the websites, SMSs or e-mails appeared incredibly legitimate.
“In addition, a large majority of victims are the elderly. These age-groups are vulnerable as they are often not aware of the latest criminal trends and are not as tech-savvy as the generations born with an iPad in hand.”
In May, Howick SAPS warned members of the public to be on high alert after a number of scams were reported in Howick and surrounding areas.
KwaZulu Natal police spokesman Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said there had been a number of cases reported where criminals would approach victims while they were at the ATM withdrawing money, interrupting them with the purpose of stealing their card.
“While the victims are confused, the suspect will then swap the bank card and quickly visit another ATM to withdraw the victim’s cash.”
In another scam, Mbhele said the victims would purchase items from the Internet, or through the advertisements on newspapers.
“When they call the seller to make a follow-up regarding the advertisement, they will be given banking details to deposit the money. After the money had been deposited, the victim will be asked again to deposit the money for transportation of the items. As soon as the money is deposited, the suspect’s cellphone will be switched off or disconnected.”
She urged members of the public to be cautious when withdrawing money at ATMs and also when they are doing internet transactions.
“The community is also warned to be cautious about advertisements placed in newspapers as some are not genuine but [are] scams. They must also avoid making transactions to the account numbers of dealers that they are not sure of,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mandisa Mkhize from Grange is one of many cellphone users who has been scammed through fraudulent contract upgrades.
Mkhize said her 24-month cellular contract with one of the major service providers expired in June 2017 and she chose not to “upgrade” it at the time.
When she visited the service provider’s branch in Pietermaritzburg in July 2017, she was told the system reflected that, in June of that year, she’d upgraded the contract from the R389/month package she’d signed up for to a R762/month contract which came with an iPhone 7.
When Mkhize checked her bank statement, she discovered that the cellular network had debited an amount of R1 900 in July, and R762 every month since.
She said she was told that the contract had been upgraded at the cellular networks branch in Davenport, in Durban.
“I was told to submit an affidavit stating what had happened. They said a query would be logged and someone would get back to me.”
Despite this, she said, she is still battling to get the service provider to deal with the issue, saying: “No one wants to resolve this. Every time I call them I get a different story and yet my bank account has been debited every month for the past thirteen months,” she said, stating that her bank refused to cancel the debit order until the cellular network issued instructions for this to be done.
Gcinani Ndaba-Mhlungu said he had also been scammed and was paying R1 200 monthly to another cellular network for an upgrade he did not do.
Khonjelwayo advised that the only defence against scams is awareness.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Never respond to an e-mail, SMS or phone call requiring you to submit personal information, even if it’s in the form of a threat to your account being suspended due to some third-party interference.”
KwaZulu-Natal based private investigator Rick Crouch of Rick Crouch and Associates said they have received a flood of calls from concerned people regarding a recent e-mail scam.
“The e-mails are pretty much the same, with some of the content slightly different depending on the recipient, but they all have a few similar features,” said Crouch.
He said that, in the e-mail, the subject line includes a password that you probably have used at some point or your identity number. The sender will tell the unsuspecting person that they have used that password to hack your computer, install malware, and record video of you through your webcam and they say they will reveal your adult-website habits and send videos of you to your contacts unless you send them bitcoin, usually US$1 200 or US$3 800 worth.
“The message seems plausible because it has your username and (likely old) password in the subject line. It seems that plenty of people have fallen for it.”
Crouch said a Dutch security researcher examined a few dozen of the Bitcoin addresses referenced in the e-mails and found that they had received in excess of $50 000 as of July 19.
“You will notice that the password referred to is an old password that you may have used years ago.”
“These passwords and user names most likely came from a data breach years ago and have been circulating on the Internet for some time. [The scammers] hope you’re scared enough to believe their story and send them bitcoin.”
He advised that if you are using the password being referenced in the e-mail to change it immediately.
To check whether your password is in one of the leaked databases, go to https://haveibeenpwned.com/
Local psychologist Clive Willows said that some of the reasons why some people easily fall for scams is because they are put under pressure.
“They are told that something is urgent and if they don’t respond immediately there will be negative consequences,” said Willow.
“People respond out of being anxious, and that means that they don’t check the legalities or the validity of what is being presented.”
Willows added that the fear of losing an opportunity in the tough economic times also made it easy for people to comply when they are told that they will benefit with little effort on their part.
Service providers double down on wasp protection
While reports indicate that many cell phone users are scammed by network providers into subscribing to receive unsolicited services, MTN and Cell C told Weekend Witness they had implemented a “Double Opt-In” to ensure customers are protected.
“This is a two-step process that requires customers who request WASP services to confirm their request prior to delivery of content and billing,” said Cell C executive head of communication Karin Fourie.
Fourie said this process ensures that customers are informed of all the service details before they purchase a wireless application service providers service. Additionally, customers are welcome to log a query with the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) who will request the verification details of the subscription from the content provider in question.
Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN SA, said: “We have conducted in-depth checks and ensure that all its technology partners and other stakeholders adhere and comply with the Consumer Protection Act. Internal investigations have revealed that there are unscrupulous external sources that are making fraudulent subscriptions on cellular networks.”
O’Sullivan said MTN has also implemented the “Double opt in” across all services to increase subscription security and ensure that customers take greater control of their subscriptions.
Tips to being secure online
According to Sabric, there are a few precautions you can take to avoid becoming the victim of a scam.
- Don’t use your social media profiles to log into other accounts
- Use strong passwords with a variety of upper case and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers. Never write them down where other people can see them. You should also try to change them up every now and then
- Only use reputable online shopping sites. One thing you can do is look at the URL of the website. If it begins with “https” instead of “http” it means the site is secure. Also check with friends if they’ve heard of it or used it before
- Be extra cautious when using Wi-Fi hotspots. Some scammers falsify popular hotspots
- Don’t click on random links
- Use good quality security software and a firewall on your computer, and update them regularly
- To protect against identity theft, take care not to reveal too much about yourself on social media networks
- Back-up the data on your computer daily
- Do not respond to random e-mails claiming that you have won a prize or inherited money
- Keep an eye on your monthly statements to identify unusual transactions or behaviours