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Keep your money safe from transfer scams
Look out for common scams to avoid being separated from your money.
Billions of rands are transferred between friends, family and businesses around the world through international money transfers every day. Unfortunately, many people have been defrauded through online schemes designed to take as much of that money as they can. The amount of money lost to scams is increasing every year. The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) reports that online scams in South Africa grew by 75% between 2017 and 2018, at a cost to South Africans of more than R262.8 million.
Scammers are becoming more sophisticated, using increasingly elaborate schemes to trick you into revealing personal and financial information. Here, we look at some of the most common online money transfer scams so you can know what to look for and avoid becoming a victim.
Common money transfer scams to watch out for
|Scam||What to watch out for||What to do|
|Online purchases||Asking for money up front.||Do not pay up front, ask to meet or arrange escrow.|
|Lottery and sweeps||Must pay a fee to receive your prize.||Ignore it; it’s not a real prize.|
|“Guaranteed” loans||Request to pay for your application or taxes before you receive the loan.||Rip it up; do not send the money.|
|Phishing||Asking for personal details over email (bank accounts, passwords, credit card numbers).||Do not reply or click any links and verify any information you’re given.|
|Charity||Donation requests from a fake charity posing as real one.||Approach a charity directly when donating to them.|
|Nigerian dignitary||Someone contacts you to help recover a large sum of money, and need your bank account info to help pay fees.||Never provide financial information over email.|
|“Stranded traveller”||A loved one claims to be in trouble, and they are asking for you to send cash.||Never send a money transfer until you can verify you know the recipient.|
|Online dating||Getting to know someone online and after you feel a connection, they ask you to send money.||Never send money to someone you have not met in person.|
Online purchase scams
You’ve found your dream apartment but are requested to transfer the first month’s rent up front. Or a timeshare, but there are taxes you need to take care of with a money order first. Maybe your search for a car has paid off with an unbelievable deal, but there are application fees you need to cover with a money transfer. While many online retailers are legitimate, scammers leverage the anonymity of the Internet to rip you off. That includes asking for money before you’ve even gotten the merchandise. Before you know it, they’re gone — along with your money.
What to do
Be wary of anybody online who tells you there’s upfront deposits or payments — especially if you haven’t yet met them and there’s no contract. And if anybody online says you can only pay with a money transfer or money order, find another retailer. Or ask to meet in person.
Lottery and sweepstakes scams
What luck! You’ve received a letter that you’ve scored a prize. Or maybe you’re contacted about a lottery you’ve won. It’s a lot of money, and there’s only one catch: you first need to pay a fee or cover taxes to receive it. It’s such a small amount, about R10,000. Surely that’s worth receiving what you’re due.
What to do
You should never have to pay upfront to receive a prize or lottery winnings. That alone should raise red flags. But if you’re curious, research the organisation or company from which you’ve received your letter to see what others have to say. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Guaranteed” loan scams
You get a letter that you’re guaranteed approval for a loan or credit card. There’s only one last task before you can get it: send money for the application or taxes. That’s easy enough, right?
What to do
You should never need to send money in order to receive an authentic credit card or loan. Instead of sending the money, research the company who sent you the letter. You’ll probably see warnings from others to rip it up.
You open your computer to an email from your bank asking you to verify your account number. Or it could be from an e-retailer needing confirmation of your password. Sometimes it’s a link from your email provider itself asking you to click and double-check your details. It’s all so official, how could it not be legit?
What to do
Don’t be tricked into giving out any personal information. Keep in mind that you will never be emailed by a legitimate bank, retailer, government agency or service provider to confirm your personal information, financial details or password. This is called “phishing”, and you should not reply or click any links in the email. Instead, report it to the relevant bank, retailer, government agency or service provider. It’s helpful to include the email or a screenshot.
Disasters bring out the best in people. But they can also unearth con artists who prey on the altruistic. Be cautious of letters requesting donations in cash or by money transfer to cover the cost of aid.
What to do
Research the charity online through CharitySA. Because some scammers use names that closely resemble well-known, reputable organisations, Google the exact name shown in your email or letter. And never transfer money to anybody claiming to be a charity. It’s best to pay by check or credit card.
Nigerian dignitary scams
Although it’s the butt of many jokes, the “Nigerian prince” scam still happens often. For this scam, you’re contacted by somebody requesting your help in recovering a great deal of money. They claim that if you help them by providing your banking account information or money to pay fees, you’ll be rewarded with a substantial portion of the money.
What to do
This is just another variation of the advance fee scam. Never provide your financial information or send money to anybody you don’t know.
“Stranded traveller” scams
This one involves an email from friends, often ones travelling abroad, who’ve found themselves in trouble and need money sent immediately to return home. The amount is nearly always R10,000 or more and may even appear to come from a friend’s actual email address. Except it’s not actually your friend who’s sending it. Instead, their account has been hijacked through a phishing scam.
What to do
Be wary of any email from a friend in trouble overseas. Attempt to make contact with them or confirm their whereabouts with your social network. As with other scams, never send money without being certain you know the recipient.
Online dating scams
Another tough one — and therefore popular among scammers — involves a bond with somebody you’ve met online through a dating site. Often, that person wants to immediately leave the site for a more intimate IM or text chat. They may claim to be working overseas with plans to visit soon. Over the course of some time, you’re let to believe there’s a strong connection. And then they ask for you to transfer some money.
What to do
By now, you know the answer: don’t send money to anybody you don’t know. You could ask to meet in person, even if it seems impossible — their refusal will be a clear sign that they may not be who they say they are. If you were emailed a photo, consider using a reverse photo search to see if you can confirm the name you’ve been given. You may discover many names attached to the photo. Again, a clear sign that you’re dealing with a scammer.
How to keep safe from scammers
Avoid becoming a victim of a money transfer scam by following a few basic tenets:
- Never send money to strangers. Full stop.
- Pay by credit card. That way, you’ll have some recourse if things go awry.
- Be wary of unsolicited email. Your email, financial and other service providers will never email you to confirm personal info or passwords.
- Go with your gut. Con artists deal in pressure and threats. When in doubt, slow down. A quick online search can often confirm your suspicions.
How to choose a reputable money transfer provider
Most reputable online providers will have up to date security measures in place to make sure your data and information is secure when sending an international money transfer. Many will have dedicated email addresses or customer service phone lines to receive tips on potential scams. When choosing a provider, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and compare your options to find the safest one for you.
I may be the victim of a scam. What should I do?
If you suspect that you’re the victim of a money transfer scam:
- Report it to the authorities. If it involves fraud or theft, file a police report. For any financial and investment scams, it’s best to contact the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).
- Inform Scambuster. You can report a scam online at Scambuster. While they can’t help you recover the lost money, your report will help Scambuster warn the rest of the community about the latest scams.
- Change your passwords. If you’re worried your email, bank account, or any other online account may be compromised, change your password straight away. It also may help to check for viruses with your security software, in case your device has been hacked.
Many online seller websites like eBay have their own protocol for reporting and dealing with scammers. If you’ve transferred money, you can also alert your money transfer company of your situation so they can be ready for any future complaints. While it’s tough to admit that you might have been the victim of somebody’s wrongdoing, try not to be too hard on yourself. Money transfer scams are on the rise because these cons are constantly evolving. By reporting it and talking openly about your experience, you’re helping others to recognise and put a stop to them.
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