Nicolette Dirk, finance writer, Justmoney.co.za
As the number of online transactions continues to grow, so does the number of criminals looking for easy targets. According Kalyani Pillay, CEO of South African Banking Information Centre (SABRIC), stolen and counterfeit credit card fraud both increased when comparing the first three quarters of 2012 with the same period in 2013.
Wherever money changes hands there lies an opportunity for a scammer to take advantage.
Bronwyn Johnson, head of marketing of OLX South Africa, said that because online classifieds are so popular, there is always the risk of encountering scammers. But with a little caution, you can protect yourself.
How do these scammers operate?
Johnson said you won’t always recognise scam artists by their strange accents or obvious disguises. Scammers have become more sophisticated and convincing, which means that consumers need to be vigilant about the risks so that they can transact safely and successfully.
“Trailers and farming equipment are the latest targets for scammers who are experts at playing on the trusting nature of South Africans,” she said.
Fraudsters connect with a need that a person identifies and uses this to lure their victims.
Johnson warned online buyers and sellers to remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“A favourite tactic with scammers is to con many unsuspecting individuals by getting them to pay a deposit to ‘secure their purchase’ or a ‘courier bill’ and then they collect many of these smaller amounts from unsuspecting individuals,” said Johnson.
You should never give a deposit on goods. Only pay cash for goods you have checked in person. Johnson added that if a person insists on a deposit to keep the goods before you’ve had the chance to see them, walk away from the deal – no exceptions.
Scammers often use real cell phone numbers and have conversations via cell phone messaging apps.
“They also use bank accounts that actually do exist but as soon as the money is deposited, the account is closed,” said Johnson.
How can consumers protect themselves?
Johnson said they do everything they can to protect buyers from adverts that are scams but since the sellers are contacted directly by buyers who respond to their ad, they cannot protect their sellers in the same way.
Pillay said that when shopping online, consumers should only use reputable sites that take security seriously.
“Register for the security products that the card associations and your bank offer to ensure that you have sufficient layers of security in place when shopping online,” said Pillay.
Johnson said buyers can protect themselves against scams by following some simple rules:
• If the scammer gives you a physical address to collect the goods from, have a look on Google maps to see if the address actually exists.
• Call the bank when receiving a payment confirmation via SMS and ask them to confirm that the transaction is legitimate and that the money has cleared.
• Research via the intranet to see if there are any fraudulent reports that have been reported. There are some very useful websites you can go to like:; www.reportacrime.co.za, www.cybercrime.org; www.saps.gov.za and www.crimeline.co.za.
• Don’t carry large sums of cash when going to meet a seller. If you are buying a big-ticket item, rather go with the seller to the bank and draw money or do an electronic fund transfer (EFT) once you have both agreed to the sale.
• If you are buying an item that carries some kind of ownership or authenticity certificate such as a car or a diamond ring, make sure that you get the certificate at the same time as the item itself. Never allow the seller to persuade you with promises of sending it to you later.
Johnson added that they respond to fraud or scam reports and buyers/sellers can report ads as scams from OLX or email firstname.lastname@example.org.