Beware ‘switch cellphone off scam’

The South African Banking Risk information Centre (SABRIC) is urging all banking customers to be wary of a fraudulent scam that is currently making its rounds locally.

Perpetrators are posing as a cell phone company representative who trick unsuspecting customers into switching off their cell phones, while they attempt to perform fraudulent transactions on the unsuspecting customer’s bank accounts.

According to the SABRIC, by getting banking customers to turn off their cell phones, customers do not receive any necessary communication or notifications from their banks during the time of the fraudulent transaction.

Simultaneously, the perpetrators divert a customer’s landline to a member of their syndicate, who then poses as the targeted customer and authorises the fraudulent transaction.

SABRIC CEO Kalyani Pillay explained: “The banks are receiving a number of incident reports where customers have been defrauded in this manner, especially where transactions involving stolen cheques are concerned.”

“The targeted customers in this regard are usually presented with plausible stories, such as the upgrading of systems by their mobile network or the conducting of routine network maintenance. We advise all banking customers to be cautious when divulging personal information to third parties and to use caution when presented with these types of telephone requests, as they are in no means true,” said Pillay.


Nomsa Thusi, Vodacom’s Executive Head of Corporate Communications, said that they take any type of illegal activity that occurs on their network very seriously and that they do their best to prevent it.

“We advise our customers to be aware and vigilant when it comes to any unusual activities on their cellphone accounts. The only time Vodacom would ask you to switch off your phone would be if you requested a specific service from us. For any unusual activity please call (082) 111 immediately,” said Thusi.


“As this matter has been brought to light, MTN would like to urge its customers to be aware that MTN SA/SP would only request a customer to switch off their handset if the customer has raised a query with MTN SP call centres directly,” said Lily Zondo, General Manager: Business Risk Management at MTN SA.

“These issues are typically regarding a SIM or device related issue, whereby the resolution to such an issue requires the customer to switch the handset off and then back on. If a customer suspects irregularity, he or she can validate this by contacting the respective MTN SP Call Centres on 808/173/1555,” said Zondo.

Cell C

Cell C spokesperson Karin Fourie said Cell C’s call centre agents will never randomly contact a customer and ask them to switch off their phones.

“The only time customers may be asked to reboot their phones is if they have personally contacted the call centre with a specific problem which necessitates a reboot,” said Fourie.

“Cell C urges all customers to be wary of any random calls asking them to switch off their phones. If customers are contacted by a suspicious caller, they should immediately terminate the call and contact our contact centre on 140 (from a Cell C phone) or 084 140 (from any other phone) with any information they can provide”.

Pillay said that SABRIC and the mobile operators are working together to address this crime threat, as well as other issues given that communication with clients is central to the banks’ routine crime risk mitigation exercises.

“Customers should become immediately suspicious when they receive a call from anyone requesting them to switch off their cell phones irrespective of the reasons given. Rather, customers should call their respective mobile service provider and ascertain the legitimacy of such a request,” concluded Pillay.

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Beware ‘switch cellphone off scam’