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Who’s fooling who?

25 April 2023 Momentum Metropolitan
Claire Klassen, Consumer Financial Education Specialist at Momentum Metropolitan

Claire Klassen, Consumer Financial Education Specialist at Momentum Metropolitan

April Fools’ is over but don’t let a financial scam catch you out, says Momentum Metropolitan’s Consumer Financial Education Specialist Claire Klassen

New email, your phone displays, and as you open the notification and scan the email that reads, Dear Taxpayer, you smile.

After the annual calculations of your last fiscal activity, we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of ZAR 3179.29. To access the form for your tax refund, click on the link below.

But you soon realise that something is not quite right. The email contains an html attachment, which doesn’t look very official. The link takes you to a form that requires your eFiling login and bank details. And when you take a closer look, the sender is listed as returns@sars.co.za (when you’re pretty sure you recall seeing ‘gov’ in the SARS website URL when you filed your last tax return).

If your internal warning bells hadn’t rung by now, you better wise up fast, because this was a real-life hoax that was doing the rounds a few weeks ago.

Claire Klassen, Consumer Financial Education Specialist at Momentum Metropolitan, says that financial fraud – also known as a scam or hoax – is when someone incurs a financial loss as a result of criminal activity.

“Scammers often falsify communications from reputable companies or organisations to lure unsuspecting consumers into parting with their money. When consumers don’t educate themselves on the various ways that scammers coax people out of their money, they leave themselves vulnerable to being defrauded.”

She highlights that the advent of technology and the prevalence of social media has only exacerbated the problem. “The internet has given unscrupulous individuals more ways to fool others out of their money and has made it easy for them to subsequently ‘disappear’ and hide behind its anonymity. This has given birth to a rise in cyber scams, such as phishing, smishing and even vishing.”

Klassen warns that there are many different types of scams and tactics fraudsters use to defraud people, so while it might not be possible to be familiar with the ins and outs of all of them (especially as scams generally appear and disappear in quick succession as information about them starts to circulate in warning) there have several common traits that you should be on the lookout for.

They ask for private or financial data
As a rule of thumb, no reputable organisation will ever ask you for confidential information such as banking details, usernames, passwords, and PINs. These should also not be stored on your device or disclosed to anyone, where they can easily fall into the wrong hands. “It’s especially important not to share this type of information in a manner that leaves a digital trail – via email or text message – as it is possible to intercept these kinds of messages,” says Klassen.

Their communication looks or sounds suspicious
Does the email or message contain typos, is the layout all over the place and the logos pixelated? Is the sender’s email address reflecting a domain that is not congruent with the official website of the body or company the sender is purporting to belong to? These should all set off warning bells, Klassen says.

“Moreover, when a message asks the user to follow a link or visit a website and the site address does not have https:// in the URL, this means that it’s not secure and hackers will easily access any personal or banking information shared – so tread extremely carefully.”

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Does that serendipitous message promise you a cash return, by any chance, if you only do XYZ? As a rule of thumb, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, says Klassen.

“When in doubt, get in touch with the institution or company in question (and Google the number – don’t use the contact details supplied in the email or message). Banking institutions or organisations like SARS will also often share the latest scams on their sites, and when we don’t heed these warnings, we leave ourselves exposed.”

Concludes Klassen, “Anyone can be scammed – from a young person who spends a great deal of time online and leaves an extensive digital footprint – to a pensioner who falls prey to a Ponzi scheme that promises high returns. Never think, it won’t happen to me; remain vigilant and keep your hard-earned money safe.”

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