Mobile users in South Africa should be wary of scammers claiming to offer data or airtime packages at suspiciously low prices.
An online-based scam which claimed to sell unlimited prepaid data, voice calls, and messaging bundles was recently pointed out by MyBroadband Forum members.
A party calling itself “Unlimited Prepaid Bundles” was selling several mobile products which it claimed worked on Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom’s networks.
The scammers had also taken out sponsored ads on Facebook for these “unlimited” bundles.
MyBroadband decided to investigate and establish whether these bundles were legitimate or part of a scam.
Upon visiting the Facebook page for “Unlimited Prepaid Bundles”, we discovered several early warning signs of trouble.
The first was the suspiciously low pricing of the bundles, which included an uncapped monthly data bundle at R249 and yearly uncapped data at R799.
Currently, the most affordable uncapped data package available in South Africa is Rain’s unlimited 24/7 product, which is priced at R479 per month.
Secondly, the listed address on the Facebook page appeared to be a legitimate location, but when clicked on, would lead to a spot in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Typing the address in Google revealed it actually belonged to Afrihost. There was also no contact number provided for the company.
Additionally, the website on which the products have to be purchased (unlimiteduncappedbundles.cf) did not use a South African (“.co.za”) or international (“.com”) domain, but rather the rarely-used Central African Republic “.cf” domain.
The page also repeatedly reiterated that payments for the bundles had to be immediate or instant or there would be a delay in the activation of the bundle.
No actual payment platform
Clicking on the website link opened a “Bundles” page, where we could choose between four monthly or four yearly packages.
After selecting the R249 Unlimited Data bundle, we were directed to a “Number” page where we were required to provide a mobile operator and cell number.
Not determined to expose one of our own numbers to possible spam, we opted to simply choose Vodacom as a mobile operator and leave the number field blank.
Surprisingly, this worked and we were directed to the next page, where our number was indicated as “072 345 6789”.
Notably, the final “Payment” page simply provided the banking details for an African Bank account in which the owed amount needed to be paid, with the user’s mobile number to be added as a reference.
“For your bundle to be activated immediately, please make sure the payment is immediate or real-time,” a note on the page read.
A line at the bottom said once the payment was completed, the bundle would automatically be activated and the user would get an SMS notification confirming this.
Hitting the next button on this page produced a pop-up prompt with the following message:
You have to make a payment to our account number first, use your phone number as the payment reference, and your bundle will be activated in less than a minute.
Instead of paying for what was obviously a scam, we contacted the listed mobile operators to confirm that the site and its products were fraudulent.
Confirmation of scam
Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom said “Unlimited Prepaid Bundles” was not a legitimate reseller and that the products are a scam.
Cell C said it had seen an increase in data scams like the above since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
MTN Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan noted the company had seen a growth of parody social media accounts, particularly on Facebook, with some customers receiving friend requests from users claiming to be MTN agents who offer to assist them with their queries privately.
“We wish to strongly urge our customers not to fall prey to these accounts as they are not official and legitimate MTN accounts,” O’Sullivan said.
A Vodacom spokesperson warned scams like these resurface from time to time, and circulate on different social media platforms.
It advised consumers to look out for the following signs of scams:
- Claims /offers that appear “too good to be true” and that are accompanied by unusual or over-the-top guarantees.
- Scams often try to create a sense of urgency in order to get victims to act quickly or pressure them into a decision with, for example, “limited time offerings”.
- Any spelling or grammatical errors in the offer or advertisement could be a tell-tale sign of a scam.
- A good indicator is also often negative reviews, feedback, or experiences that have been shared online or on consumer sites.
Consumers must be vigilant of similar data scams in future, and if they suspect a party is selling fraudulent products using the names of mobile operators, they should contact the networks via their official social media channels, contact numbers, or email addresses.
Scam page and website taken down
MyBroadband also attempted to contact the scammers via their provided email address, which returned a mail delivery failure notification that claimed our message had been marked as spam.
We then sent a message to the scammers via Facebook Messenger, but only received an automatic response promising to attend to our query.
After MyBroadband lodged these queries, the Facebook page and website of the scammers were taken down.
MyBroadband notified African Bank of the site and provided the details of the bank account which was being used to scam buyers.
The bank confirmed it had launched a forensic investigation into the account.