Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Beware of these scam calls from your ‘bank’

Banks will never ask for your pins or OTPs, even if fraud has been detected on your accounts.

It is important to beware of scam calls from your “bank” and remember that it’s not easy to recognise scammers anymore because of their spelling mistakes or far-fetched statements.

Scammers now call you on your cellphone and sound so versed in banking procedures that it is easy to believe them. How do I know that? Because they tried to scam me in December – twice.

I was very busy writing stories for Personal Finance one morning in December when my phone rang. I noticed that it was a call from a cellphone. A very eloquent man, who introduced himself as “Brian”, greeted me when I answered and said he is from my bank’s fraud division.

ALSO READ: Do South Africans open the door for scammers?

Anybody could have your personal details

What was worrying is that he had my full names, date of birth, personal email address, home address, my cell number (obviously), landline number, my bank account number AND my ID number. Which is maybe not surprising since my details were probably leaked in one of the major information leaks of the past few years.

He went on to explain that he is calling me because someone is trying to pay for goods ordered online from a shop I never heard of before called Infinity, for the princely sum of R5 000. I immediately said that it was not me placing this order.

Oh, he was so smooth! “I can help you to stop the payment immediately,” he offered. “Do you have your banking app on your phone? To reverse the payment, just go into your app and follow the procedure to send cash to yourself, pay yourself R5 000 and then give me the OTP that you receive.”

He kept reassuring me and explaining the “bank” procedures. He even gave me a reference number! I kept stringing him along, telling him that I am not comfortable following this procedure. And he kept reassuring me that I am doing this to block the payment.

ALSO READ: Fake websites are stealing South Africans’ money – here’s how to spot one

Beware of the smooth talker

Eventually I got so irritated that I told him the app says I do not have R5 000 in my account. Then he became even smoother: “No problem. I will just unblock it on my side and call you back.” No more interest in helping me and yes, he did not call back.

I called my bank’s fraud division and the real bank employee I spoke to just started laughing when I told him what happened. “That is an old trick already,” he said and took the number the “bank” official called me from.

That afternoon my phone rang again and again it was a cell number. This time it was a woman and yes, you guessed it: she was also from my bank’s fraud division. This time someone tried to also spend R5 000 of my money, but this time it was for travel.

When I said it was not me, she tried her luck once more: “Are you very sure you did not book flights?” That is when I lost it and told her that her colleague Brian already called me in the morning with the same scam and then I told her where to go.

In this there is a lesson for all of us: be aware of scammers out there no matter how busy you are.

How do you know it is really your bank contacting you? There are several ways your bank can contact you, but figuring out when it is your bank or a fraudster on the other end of the line is not always easy, Anna Collard, SVP content strategy and evangelist at KnowBe4 AFRICA, says.

ALSO READ: Don’t be tricked into becoming a money mule

Another example of a bank scam call

She shares the story of someone who was parking her car at a busy shopping mall when she received a call from someone who claimed to be from her bank. The caller mentioned that there had been unusual activity on her account.

Initially, she did not find the first transaction, a purported purchase from Takealot, suspicious but when the caller mentioned a payment of R10 000 to an overseas account she became not only convinced that the caller was truly from her bank but also that she wanted to stop this fraudulent transaction immediately.    

Because he was so convincing and she was distracted, the fraudster managed to convince her to share her one-time pin (OTP), allegedly to stop the international transaction. Unfortunately, R15 000 was immediately transferred to an unknown account.

Realising the deception, she visited the bank branch at the mall to close her account but she never recovered the lost money, as she authorised the payment by sharing the OTP with the fraudster on the line.

ALSO READ: Pay attention: This is how cyber criminals trick you

Is it really your bank calling?

Collard says it is difficult to determine if a bank is contacting you or not, especially when fraudsters already have access to so much of your personal information. “Unfortunately, some of our details are already out there because your personal details may have been compromised in previous data breaches such as the ones at credit bureaus. If you have ever received a loan, fraudsters will probably have access to your name, address and ID number.”

However, Collard says a bank will never ask for your password or OTP. If they phone you to, for example, promote a new banking product. Your bank will verify your details through an automated function, never over the phone.

“Asking for your password or pin is a big red flag that you need to watch out for,” she warns.

Banks will also not send you emails or text messages with links to click on or files to download. These are also warning signs that should put you on your guard. “These could be phishing attempts to install malware on your device or steal your banking log-in details,” she cautions.

ALSO READ: Green light given for class action lawsuit against ‘loan’ websites that scammed South Africans

Watch out for these red flags for bank scam calls

These are the red flags to watch out for when you hear from your bank:

  • If you receive a phone call and are worried that money may have been taken from your account, it is better for you to contact the bank directly. “If you feel suspicious, end the call right away and instead contact your bank by calling them or using your banking app.”
  • A sense of panic or feeling rushed. “Scammers are highly skilled and understand that when you are feeling pressured, your ability to think clearly may be compromised. They get you into a state of mind where you will hand over the keys to your bank account to get them to help you, although they are actually robbing you blind.”

The woman in Collard’s example says the experience has made her paranoid about any communication that purports to be from her bank. “If an email or SMS looks suspicious, I delete it. If someone phones me and says they are from the bank, I hang up.” She feels more comfortable using the chat application on her banking app to communicate with her bank now.

The most important thing to remember, Collard says, is that banks will never ask for your password or OTP over the phone.

“Do not be conned by the local accent or the personal details they have about you. Banks seldom phone their customers and prefer to do most of their communication via the banking app.”

She recommends trusting your instincts and hanging up if you have any doubts when your bank calls you. “A quick call to your bank can resolve any uncertainties and provide reassurance, potentially preventing you from losing your hard-earned money,” Collard says.

Read more on these topics

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