Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Do South Africans open the door for scammers?

We feel sorry for the victims who lose their money, but do we do enough to protect ourselves and our money from scammers?

South Africans who fall victim to scammers often open the door for the scammers because they are not careful enough, although they would not admit it. However, fraudsters and scammers also use highly sophisticated methods that victims do not expect.

This creates an environment where it is becoming increasingly difficult for lawmakers and authorities to bring these criminals to justice. Therefore, it is very important to remain actively aware of the risks fraud poses.

“South Africans in particular must be aware of how fraud affects them and the urgency of implementing proactive prevention measures in their daily lives,” says Nazia Karrim, head of product development at the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS).

Next week is International Fraud Awareness Week and to mark the occasion, the SAFPS worked with several industry professionals to identify the specific issues South Africans must watch out for.

The first thing to remember is that South Africa is a sophisticated stepping stone into Africa. While South Africa is not the largest economy on the continent, it is one of the most diverse and very sophisticated compared to its continental peers.

In addition, connectivity in the country is increasing, with statistics from Statistics SA showing that more than half of the population has access to smart devices.

“Many people are unaware that South Africa is a safe haven for cyber criminals, who use the country as a stepping stone into Africa. South Africa is one of the countries in the world with the highest rate of scams perpetrated on the rest of the world,” Danny Myburgh, MD of Cyanre, points out.

ALSO READ: Scammers now using Ramaphosa’s name to exploit victims

Scammers steal high-profile identities

“Scammers are increasingly assuming the identities of high-level South African business professionals, such as well-known (CEOs, CFO, and COOs to run scams. As scammers ran scams from specific countries in the past, a business professional will be reluctant to do business with a business executive from that country.

“However, they will be open to doing business with a South African business executive because we have a good reputation. Scammers know this and take advantage of it.”

Myburgh says one of the biggest scams targets businesses with a business email compromise scam. Hackers access the mailbox of a high-level manager and spend almost 200 days assessing how they can run a lucrative scam.

“In some instances, the scammer changes the banking details on invoices or purchasing orders to their own. Other scams involve accessing important information or client data and then holding it for ransom. Statistics from the US show that almost $300 million is lost to these types of scams globally every month,” Myburgh says.

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

And that old favourite: phishing scams

South Africans are also easy targets when it comes to phishing scams. Myburgh says it does not take much for a scammer to send out 1 000 phishing emails.

“If they only get a 5% click-through rate, they will reap a high reward.

He believes the authorities are fighting a losing battle against these criminals as there is significant anonymity associated with their crime. The victim pool is global rather than local, which is also a considerable problem.

“If you combine the unemployment crisis and the prevalence of technology and the low level of training needed to run these scams, you can see why they are so popular.”

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

Banking fraud is another big problem

Banking fraud is another risk many South Africans face. Kevin Hogan, head of fraud risk at Investec, echoes Myburgh’s sentiments and points out that the techniques used to perpetrate fraud have not changed much over the years.

“The increased number of victims largely boils down to sophisticated phishing scams and bad password habits. Consumers have more to do with themselves becoming victims than they care to admit,” he says.

However, Hogan admits that the issue is more complex than simply careless consumers and that these scams are becoming highly sophisticated.

“It is becoming such a challenge that lawmakers flagged this with the banks and are even ruling against them in some cases.

“Currently a law is being passed in the UK which states that if a consumer makes a payment in good faith, and it turns out to be a scam, the bank receiving the payment and the bank authorising the payment will be jointly responsible for refunding the victim.”

ALSO READ: Ground-breaking platform to combat fraud coming in June

Yima’s online tools can help keep scammers at bay

The SAFPS recently launched Yima, a platform offering online tools to combat these scams. Yima is a one-stop-shop website for South Africans to report scams, secure their identity and scan any website for vulnerabilities related to scams.

“These tools enable consumers to surf the internet more safely, access key products such as online banking and shopping sites more confidently and remain actively aware and informed about fraud and scams in their daily lives,” Karrim says.

Users can also call the scams hotline, 083 123 SCAM (7226), to report a fraud incident directly to their banks, retailers, insurance companies or police.

“It is interesting that both Myburgh and Hogan mention that education is a problem. If the SAFPS can highlight one message this International Fraud Awareness Week, it is that Yima has extensive resources when it comes to fraud awareness education,” Manie Van Schalkwyk, CEO of the SAFPS, says.

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits