Spotting and preventing scams: what you need to know

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With the rise of COVID-19 and the recent incidents of civil unrest, scammers across the country are becoming more active and taking advantage of the chaos. This isn’t a new thing either, these criminals have always preyed on times of uncertainty. 

The only difference now? It’s much easier for them to do so online. Whether it’s for a lot of money or the cost of a small grocery shop, these frauds can happen to almost anyone. Digitally or physically. We’ve come a long way since the first Nigerian ‘princes’ offered us their whole inheritance for a small donation but so have the scammers.

So which are the most common scams to look out for?

Though it’s important to use your instincts about what is and isn’t a scam, some have become increasingly popular in scamster circles and deserve their place on the list. 

Digital purchases

Online shopping is great. You love online shopping. We love online shopping. Everyone loves online shopping, including scammers. Online fraud is rapidly on the way to becoming one of the most common scams in South Africa. Remember, only registered and legitimate businesses will have payment portals and options to transfer funds from your bank account. 

So if you’re buying something from a website like Gumtree or Facebook, or even WhatsApp, never pay upfront without seeing the product. Arrange to do so only when you’re satisfied that everything is above board. Just because someone sends you a picture and price doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate offer. 

Online dating scams

Catfishing and online dating scams are rife worldwide, and the results, more often than not, are heartbreaking. The victims of these scams are just lonely people looking for a bit of love, but scammers are only interested in one thing, and it’s certainly not romance. 

The first warning signs to look out for here is that they usually live in a different country or province and often ask for airtime or money transferred to their account. They promise they’ll come to visit soon, but in the meantime, you need to send them money to buy all sorts of things. Don’t get sucked into conversations on social media that get too friendly too quickly, and block anyone who asks you for money no matter how nice they are.

Renovations and contracting

You might have seen some of these ads plastered over social media and other websites, and they usually say something like ‘Cheap renovashins, grate results 50% off’. Now other than the usual spelling mistakes, lack of a website, or any trusted social media presence, you can also tell which ones are scams because they will require you to pay a ‘deposit.’

If they ask for money before visiting the site and any work begins, it’s a big red flag. If you do take on any contractors, arrange to pay them in stages as the work progresses. 

FOREX and stock trading

Recently there has been a rise in cases of fake ‘advisors’ who want you to invest your money in FOREX (foreign exchange) or other stock options. These people claim to be able to double or even triple your investment overnight or in a reasonably short time. 

Sometimes they are posted under other social media posts that have gotten a lot of attention. Other times they may SMS or WhatsApp you telling about this ‘amazing’ deal. NO investment opportunity will give you overnight profits the way these people claim, and solid investments can take years before you see significant returns. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. 

Never click links that they send you, and if you encounter a tweet or Facebook post that claims to be from someone who has made money from any kind of stock exchange, ignore it and move on with your life. 

Fake job opportunities or interviews

Another factor that’s been aggravated by the pandemic and July lootings is unemployment. People are increasingly desperate to find work in an economy that’s already underperforming, and scammers have found ways to exploit that. 

If you encounter a job ad or someone puts you in touch with someone looking to fill a position, make sure that you do your homework about the person or company for whom you’ll be working. Another important thing to note is that no legitimate employer will ever ask you for money for any reason before attending an interview.

In the event that they ask you to deposit any amount of money to ‘register’ somewhere or to pay for medical clearance of some sort, then walk away. This is especially true if this conversation takes place over WhatsApp or isn’t directly from the company offering you the interview or job. 

Who can help you?

A few organizations deal with these types of scams and can be incredibly helpful to anyone trying to resolve or avoid them altogether. So we’ve compiled a list of resources that we hope will keep you safe from this new wave of scammers. 

Financial Intelligence Centre

Phone: +27 12 641 6000

South African Police Service

Phone: 0860 010 111

Cybersecurity Hub

Email: [email protected]

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