Telegram scammers giving South African companies the runaround

JSE-listed mining company Afrimat has had its hands full with scammers pretending to be its representatives on the popular messaging platform Telegram for nearly two years.

The company recently put out at least its third statement to the public, warning people to be wary of con artists.

Afrimat chief executive officer Andries van Heerden explained that several fake Telegram and WhatsApp accounts had been established using Afrimat’s corporate identity and the names and photos of senior Afrimat management.

The impersonators would offer services ranging from investment brokering to cryptocurrency trading, well outside of Afrimat’s line of business.

“I wish to irrevocably state that Afrimat has never, and does not intend to in future, offer any financial, investment or related services through any platform, including but not limited to Telegram,” said Van Heerden.

“Afrimat only trades through the regulated stock exchanges of the JSE and A2X.”

“Any other investment scheme or financial service on any platform other than these regulated stock exchanges, that are trying to lend credibility to their schemes by utilising the Afrimat name or impersonating our people, are false and misrepresent Afrimat’s involvement or endorsement.”

Van Heerden said there had recently been an influx of these fake profiles on Telegram in particular.

A Telegram channel impersonating Afrimat with over 1,724 members promoting scam offers to earn money in Afrikaans.

The issues first came to Afrimat’s attention in September 2022, when it was made aware of malicious actors using its official logo as their profile picture on a Telegram channel and impersonating Van Heerden.

The channel also had members who impersonated other members of Afrimat’s directorate.

“It appears that the group sent links to unsuspecting individuals on WhatsApp, inviting them to join the Telegram Group,” Van Heerden said at the time.

Afrimat has strongly urged any Telegram users who see one of these groups on any social media website or digital platform to report it via its dedicated whistleblowing web page.

“All information will be treated anonymously and with the utmost confidentiality,” Van Heerden said.

A source at the company told MyBroadband that Afrimat had incurred significant legal costs in combatting the scammers.

They expressed frustration at the fact that Telegram’s support had been virtually non-existent when it came to acting against the impersonators.

In a twist of irony, one of Afrimat’s own employees was blocked from the platform after trying to report one of the scam profiles.

Although there had also been instances of scammers using WhatsApp, they were far more prolific on Telegram.

While the scammers initially used Andries’s name, they eventually had to start getting creative.

There have been numerous reports about Telegram scams happening across the world over the past year.

Among the most noteworthy is Wired’s December 2023 report on scammers impersonating doctors and tricking anti-vaxxers into buying fake medical documents.

In May 2023, the South African Revenue Service also warned about scammers pretending to be from the taxman and engaging people in a Telegram channel to pay tax through a merchant, with the promise of a subsequent refund, commission, or salary.

In that case, the scammers were found to be luring people from TikTok.

The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) also alerted South Africans about numerous Telegram-based scams during 2023, Moonstone reports.

These included con artists impersonating representatives of Aluma Capital, Anchor Capital, Ashburton, Emperor Asset Management, Fairtree Asset Management, Inn8 Invest, and Julius Baer South Africa.

In early February 2024, it alerted the public to another Telegram scam run by individuals purporting to be from Brantam Financial Services Holdings (Pty) Limited.

Telegram’s anonymous phone numbers

According to a report from Business Insider, Telegram rarely bans channels itself, with recent temporary restrictions on channels linked to Hamas being a notable exception.

WhatsApp has reported on how many accounts it has banned for violations of its Terms of Service in several countries — including India, one of its biggest markets, on numerous occasions.

During the second half of 2023, the popular chat app banned over 7 million accounts every month in India alone.

One of the possible reasons scammers prefer Telegram over WhatsApp, despite the latter being much more popular overall, is that Telegram allows users to sign up to its platform without providing a cell number.

Users can create an account with a blockchain-powered number available on Fragment, a fully decentralised auction platform that sells anonymous numbers and usernames.

That makes enforcement more challenging, as there is no person to whom the account can be linked for potential investigation.

WhatsApp requires a regular cellphone number, which can not only be blocked if it finds a user is using its platform for fraudulent activities but can also be provided to authorities for potential prosecution.

While this number could be linked to incorrect or false information, requiring a legitimate cell number can be a nuisance for scammers who might use one account for a while before being banned and then need a new SIM card for another account.

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Recommended

Share this article
Telegram scammers giving South African companies the runaround