Many internet users have fallen prey to advanced fee scammers over the years. In a typical advanced scam, you may be offered money in return for a smaller sum. The smaller figure often comes in the form of a fake ‘deposit’. Advanced fee scams are often centred upon the promise of an inheritance, a loan, an exciting investment opportunity or money it’s claimed that you’ve won. Once you have sent the sum over, the scammer will normally disappear completely, leaving you substantially out of pocket.
A global trend
People around the world have been targeted by advanced fee scammers. South Africa in particular has been heavily impacted by these scams. The South African Reserve Bank received reports of over 5,000 advance fee scams during the last five years. South Africa has been targeted so aggressively due to the country’s explosive increase in new smartphone users; the percentage of ‘smartphone penetration’ across South Africans climbed to over 91% in 2019. This represents a full 10% increase in one year!
This means lots of new people buying smartphones for the first time. Many of these new smartphone users are not well versed in ‘online security’ when compared to their fellow countrymen who have been using smartphones and the internet for years. After all, how could they be? For some of these unfortunate newbies their first educational experience of online scams is to fall victim to one, but how exactly do scammers trick the inexperienced so successfully?
One common strategy is essentially a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ approach. Scammers adopt the guise of a trustworthy brand that people are familiar with, make a cloned version of their website and contact a potential target directly from a phoney phone number or email address masquerading as ‘the real brand’. South African loan giant Wonga has had their brand image misappropriated for scammers over the years for this very purpose which has led them proactively providing free educational resources in the fight against scammers. The tips provided below have come directly from their #ScamWiseSA awareness campaign.
How do I know if I’m being targeted?
There are many things you can look out for if you’re concerned advanced fee scammers may be targeting you. Some criminals ask people to pay fees to gain access to money and certain financial scammers. The only time that you’re likely to hear from an advanced fee scammer again is if they come back to request more cash. Today, there are several channels scammers can use to try and part you with your cash. In the past, most of these scams were carried out over email, but criminals are now using a host of services. These include Facebook, WhatsApp, text messaging, dating sites and phone calls.
What to look out for
It’s common for criminals to dupe people by pretending to provide financial services free of the obstacles you might normally face when applying for credit. For instance, you may be offered credit with no credit checks, or the interest may seem particularly generous. If you’ve been told you’ve won a competition you don’t recall entering or have been told you have an unexpected inheritance, chances are someone is trying to scam you.
Are scams easy to spot?
Some e-mails are more authentic than others, and many people have been taken in by what appears to be genuine correspondence from a leading brand. Telltale signs often come in the form of misspelt words and bogus email addresses. You may be referred to as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ in the correspondence. It’s worth noting that some correspondence may well feature your own name and include no spelling or grammatical mistakes. This explains why so many people do fall for these scams. If you strongly suspect someone is trying to scam you, cut off all contact right away. Don’t accuse them of engaging in criminal activity – go straight to the police.
Phishing still a big concern
A common tactic still used by scammers is ‘phishing’. In phishing, criminals pretend to represent a company they hope you’re already doing business with. These companies can include your bank, another financial service that you’re using or even a streaming service. The correspondence may inform you that you need to change your password or that your subscription is about to run out. Phishing emails encourage you to click on bogus links so criminals can steal your personal information. Emails are often designed to steal your password or banking details. Some of these emails will place malware on your computer. When you click the link, you may be taken to something that closely resembles the website in question so the scammer can get the sensitive information they’re looking for.
Online scams in the pandemic
Scammers have been particularly active during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some phishing scams involve emails telling people they have been in close contact with a virus sufferer and that they therefore need to visit what turns out to be a bogus website. Fake PPE ads have also appeared online. These purport to be genuine ads for products like sanitiser. However, no products will be sent out to you once you have provided your payment details. By keeping yourself up to date with the latest online scams, you can reduce the chances of being taken in by them.