Online fraud warning in South Africa as riots rage

The Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS) has warned South Africans to be vigilant against fraudsters who will try and exploit the current unrest in the country to steal money from consumers.

Reana Steyn, who has served as the ombud since 2017, advised banking clients to keep calm and understand that the violence will be causing some disruption to normal branch services.

“In addition to all the other challenges facing consumers, fraudsters will be more motivated than ever to take advantage of the current crisis that is gripping the country. We need to be extra vigilant during these times,” Steyn said.

The OBS said that the destruction and disruption of physical bank branches would force more consumers to transact online.

“The move to online transactions and mobile banking will prove to be challenging for some people as it may be the first time that they ever transact with their bank in this manner,” said Steyn.

“Banking customers continue to be tricked into divulging personal information such as Internet banking credentials as well as card information. This enables fraudsters to conduct fraudulent transactions where cards do not have to be present.”

In addition, Steyn advised business owners impacted by the looting and destruction to try and keep a cool head.

“If the current events lead to your business closing down, temporarily or permanently, it could mean that you can no longer afford your loan, mortgage or overdraft. The best thing to do is to contact your bank at the earliest opportunity,” Steyn said.

“Not sharing the information or making arrangements will only lead to the accounts attracting interest and possibly legal fees.”

“Secondly, to prevent fraud, remember that your bank will never ask you to verify any information of a personal nature over the phone. Take a note of who is calling you and then report the incident immediately to your banks’ fraud hotline,” Steyn advised.

Reana Steyn, Ombudsman for Banking Services

The OBS shared the following main tips to protect yourself and your business from being defrauded:

  • Be aware – Always remember that legitimate businesses will never ask you for your personal, sensitive, or confidential banking information. Anyone who does this over the phone is probably trying to scam you.
  • Always be sceptical – Even if your Caller ID gives the name of a bank, or some other company or organisation, it could be a trick.
  • Don’t click on links or icons in unsolicited emails – Don’t reply to these emails. Delete them immediately.
  • Check that you are on the secure banking website before entering any personal information.
  • Check your bank statements regularly and report suspicious entries immediately to your bank.
  • Never accept assistance from a stranger at an ATM.
  • If your card is jammed at the ATM, do not leave but immediately contact your bank to report the incident.

Covid-19 impact

Steyn also reminded bank customers that it remained their duty to ensure that their financial affairs were in order by continuously updating their information with their debtors every time they changed bank accounts.

She said many bank clients were re-evaluating their financial products in search of more affordable offerings due to the job losses and reduced working hours brought on by Covid-19.

“Some of the complaints received by the OBS are from people advising that they had moved/switched their banking accounts to other institutions and were surprised when, a few months down the line, they received calls from debt collectors for payment of outstanding balances on the overdrawn accounts when they never had an overdraft,” the OBS said.

“Whether you change your bank account due to the fees being charged or you are unhappy with the service offered by your current bank, there is a process that needs to be followed,” Steyn explained.

If the account holder instructs the bank to close an account, the account holder will be required to settle the outstanding balance before it is closed.

However, Steyn said that bank customers would often forget to inform their debtors that they have closed or switched accounts to other institutions, which resulted in their debtors continuing to pass debit orders to the closed account.

“This results in the debit orders being returned unpaid, attracting returned unpaid debit order fees. This, in turn, results in the account being overdrawn”, Steyn warned.

Now read: This map shows where looting and violence is happening in South Africa right now

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Online fraud warning in South Africa as riots rage