Phishing Scams in South Africa: Don’t Take the Bait

Phishing scams in South Africa occur almost every day, which means you could be just a click away from losing lots of hard-earned money.  It’s been reported that we are in the top five most targeted countries in the world. While some attempts at conning you out of your cash are reasonably obvious (remember that message about you inheriting a portion of a foreign prince’s fortune?), others are carefully crafted calls to action designed to deceive you. So, it’s important to know what to look out for when it comes to suspicious emails from your bank.


What are phishing scams?

Phishing is a means of online fraud that sees cybercriminals sending out emails claiming to be from a legitimate company or financial organisation in an attempt to steal your personal information. They then use your data to pinch your identity and even money from your bank account.

When it comes to bank phishing scams, you will receive an email “from your bank” that contains a link to a fake website. This site will look like an exact duplicate of your bank’s page and will prompt you to “update your information.” Fraudsters will then be in possession of your username, password, ID number and other confidential info. Needless to say, the criminals will have unrestricted access to your bank account.

Thankfully, because these emails are technically spam, they often get filtered into your Junk Folder, which should automatically make you question its legitimacy.

However, there has been an increase in “spear phishing”, which is a more targeted scam that seems to be customised to appeal to an individual’s interest. What makes this particularly dangerous is that it can bypass some anti-virus defences.

Protect yourself against phishing scams in South Africa with these handy prevention tips:

  • Your bank will NEVER send you an email asking you to update your info. All South African banks are pretty clear on this.
  • Your bank’s website should have examples of bogus emails, so check it out if you are uncertain about the message you received.
  • Do not click on any link in an email that suggests it will take you to your bank’s website.
  • Make sure you use the web address (URL) you were given when you signed up for internet banking.
  • Type your bank’s URL directly into your browser and look out for the “lock” icon (this means the site is secure).
  • Never log onto your internet banking in an internet café or where multiple people might be on the network.
  • Update your anti-virus software regularly.

Remember- unsolicited correspondence from your bank is always fishy, and if you commit the pointers as mentioned earlier to memory, you won’t easily become a victim of phishing scams in South Africa.

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Identity Theft in SA: Fact or Fiction?

Something that only happens in Hollywood movies or a genuine threat to South African consumers? If recent statistics are anything to go by, identity theft in South Africa and the theft of personal information is more fact than fiction. Not only have reported incidents increased by 200% over the last six years, but it also costs the economy a staggering loss of R1 billion annually.

What is Identity Theft?

According to Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, Managing Director at LAW FOR ALL, identity theft in South Africa occurs when criminals steal personal information for their benefit. “The criminal fraudulently assumes the victims’ identity to obtain credit, loans or other benefits in the victim’s name, often resulting in a mountain of debt.” Apart from the financial benefits, criminals often steal another’s identity to hide their own. The “new” identity is then used to:

  • obtain employment as a foreign citizen;
  • claim social grants;
  • escape criminal prosecution; or to
  • claim life insurance policy benefits.

How is personal information obtained?

Criminals usually obtain private information such as ID numbers, banking and card details, home or postal addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and signatures through practices that range from basic to sophisticated, warns Nagtegaal. Some techniques used include:

  • Intercepting or diverting bank transactions;
  • Obtaining personal information via social media;
  • Hacking into computers or email accounts;
  • Theft of ID documents and bank cards out of a purse/wallet;
  • Theft of account statements in the post;
  • Obtaining confidential mail in the garbage; and
  • Telephonic impersonation and encouragement to disclose or update information.

Techniques such as phishing and pharming have increasingly become popular amongst cybercriminals. Phishing is used to obtain a victim’s usernames and passwords. Usually, an email will be sent that appears to be from a trustworthy entity such as a bank, containing a link to a bogus webpage where personal and financial information is updated and collected. Pharming, on the other hand, is a more advanced technique used by hackers who obtain access to a server and redirect traffic to bogus web pages to get confidential information. 

Steps to take if you realise your identity has been stolen.

Nine out of ten times, consumers are unaware that their personal information has been jeopardised. Often the breach of information only comes to light years later when a victim’s credit application is declined by a financial institution, an angry vendor requests payment of arrear accounts or civil claims are instituted. Identity theft could have an adverse effect on consumer’s credit profile and could be difficult to prove, but as soon as it comes to light, it is essential that the victim takes the necessary steps to avoid further loss. Here’s what to do should you fall victim:

Step 1: Gather as much evidence and information as possible. This will help the police with their investigation. Ask the companies where your ID was used for a copy of the documents submitted by the thief.

Step 2: Report the matter to the SAPS and SAFPS. Ask the police for the case number and a copy of the report. The bank or other financial institutions may request you to submit a copy. It’s also a good idea to take down the name and contact details of the assisting police officer.

Step 3: Inform the credit bureaus of the fraudulent activity. If you haven’t already, obtain a credit report to see which creditors have blacklisted you.

Step 4 Contact your bank to close existing accounts and to open new accounts and create new PINs.

Step 5: Lodge a query with all creditors. Confirm whether any activity has taken place in your name. Your accounts may have to be closed. Refer any disputes with creditors regarding transactions in your name to the Credit Ombudsman.

Prosecution and Punishment for Identity Theft in South Africa

South Africa does not have specific legislation that prosecutes criminals for Identity Theft crimes. “Thieves are usually charged with common law crimes such as fraud or forgery and first-time offenders could face up to 15 years in prison where amounts involved exceed R500 000. Subsequent offenders could face punishment of 20 to 25 years or more” confirms Nagtegaal.

Tips protect your personal information:

  1. Always keep your ID and bank cards in a safe place.
  2. When drawing money at an ATM be aware of your environment and protect your PIN.
  3. Activate the SMS notification function on your bank account to inform you of any account activity.
  4. Shred documents, such as bank statements, that contain personal information.
  5. Be cautious when providing personal information via the internet or social media.
  6. Do not provide personal information such as credit card information telephonically.
  7. Obtain a credit report every year.

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