The rise of phishing scams took the spotlight in this week’s edition of #CrimeTalk on Salaamedia’s flagship breakfast show News & Views. The pseudo-realistic appearance of messages and calls have duped millions into sharing sensitive personal information.
Many have fallen prey to scammers who offer large sums of money, loans and other financial incentives. Those undergoing strenuous financial circumstances are especially vulnerable to phishing scammers, with 5% of South Africans falling victim during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In some instances, phishers send their victims SMSs congratulating them on winning the lottery. Some may ‘inform’ victims of unclaimed inheritance worth millions of pounds, while other scammers call their victims to inform them of ‘suspicious’ activity in their bank accounts requiring urgent action.
“It’s a very serious thing that’s happening. It is so genuine [because] they have access to your private information. I don’t know how they have it, but their background information is absolutely precise. The questions are professional to the core,” said Mohammed ‘Batman’ Ismail from eThekwini Secure, who himself nearly became a victim.
Calls from ‘banks’
On Monday, Ismail received a call from someone posing as a consultant at Capitec Bank. As he explained, the woman on the phone claimed that there was a suspicious attempt to withdraw money from his account. The entire scenario appeared entirely realistic.
“All your information is there. They ask you to get into the app and change your PIN. They give a genuine PIN and the next thing you know, they’ve got access to your account and you see these amounts getting extracted from your account.”
Ismail said he had asked the so-called agent if the matter could instead be resolved at a branch, but they insisted that it could only be done telephonically.
“Every single question that they asked was exactly how a call centre agent would do. That’s what knocked me off my chair.”
After realising that he had been a victim of phishing, Ismail immediately took action to have his account frozen. He visited a physical branch where he was informed that phishing scams have been played on many others like him.
Tips to avoid being scammed
According to data from TransUnion, scammers continue to prey on financial vulnerability caused by the Covid-19 lockdown periods.
The credit reporting agency found that just over one in three (37%) of South African consumers said they are aware of a digital fraud attempt related to Covid-19 targeting them and 5% fell victim to the attempt. Among those targeted, unemployment related scams remain the most common scheme (29%), followed by phishing (28%) and third-party seller scams on legitimate online retail websites (24%).
The public is advised to take measures to avoid becoming victims of phishing scams. These include deleting unsolicited emails and SMSs, verifying the authenticity of a website before entering private information, and disregarding messages demanding urgent action or offering ridiculous deals.
Ismail added that consumers should avoid entering their private details, such as logging into your online banking platform, while connected to public WiFi networks. He also cautioned against entertaining unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to be call centre agents.
“If you’re not sure, cut the call, phone the bank, get to the fraud department or go into a branch. Please do not give any information out – just cut the call,” he said.