South Africans deserve a reason to be happy. After years of mounting economic pressure, where the cost of living has risen to record levels, the country was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic which brought our economy to a virtual standstill.
South Africa’s response to the pandemic has received worldwide praise. However, a lot of hard work needs to be done to ensure that the economic relief that Government has promised reaches the right hands, and that those who receive this relief do not become victims of fraud.
As we are approaching the festive season, our 20 years of experience has shown that this is a time when criminals try to take advantage of consumers. As the Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS), we have received and investigated a lot of complaints from bank customers who have fallen victim to scams over the years. In instances where we were able to find maladministration on the part of the banks, we were able to recover monies for aggrieved consumers.
“October was Cyber Security Awareness Month and we have just completed International Fraud Awareness week (which ran from 15 November to 21 November). These two events are important as there are increased transactions taking place over the internet and the festive season is one which traditionally sees a lot more transactions (online and conventional transactions) than any other time of the year,” says Reana Steyn, the Ombudsman.
Holiday season fraud warning
Not all of the specials and bargains advertised are genuine, as cyber criminals are becoming very inventive in the way that they commit their crimes.
“During this period, fraud is likely to occur when transacting online or with bank cards at the ATM and other point of sale devices. Consumers will also receive calls from criminals pretending to be representatives from their bank. Even though the caller may know your identity number, name, and card number, consumers are urged to never disclose any confidential information such as the CVV number on the back of their cards or the one-time pin (OTP) sent to their phones by the bank. It is very important to remember that the bank will never ask you for your access code, password and PIN over the phone or via email links,” says Steyn.
Criminals are ready to prey on innocent bargain hunters transacting at ATMs or online by stealing their bank cards, confidential banking details, as well as by offering fake deals on proxy websites or through unsafe internet connections. Therefore, during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the OBS cautions the public to be extra vigilant.
Tips for consumers
If consumers do want to take advantage of festive season special offers, there are a few important safety tips that they can follow to protect themselves against potential harm:
* Protect yourself online by inly using trusted websites;
* Safeguard your devices. Keep your cell phones and laptop safe and discourage multiple users on your device;
* Secure your networks. Set strong passwords and ensure that the sites you shop on are secure and are the legitimate websites. The icon representing a padlock on the browser must be locked;
* Avoid public WIFI connections and internet cafes for your online banking and purchasing. Rather use data to do emergency transactions;
* Never ask a random stranger for assistance at the ATM and be wary of strangers asking you for help;
* If the ATM is in a secluded area or it seems to be malfunctioning, rather go somewhere else to transact; and
* Ensure that you will be able to call your bank immediately in the case of an emergency. If you leave your cell phone at home, it will be too late to stop the withdrawal of the funds from your account.
A safe haven
While a lot of care is taken to decrease fraud and raise awareness, the reality is that a lot of South Africans will become victims of fraud. Therefore, it is important to let the public know that they do have some form of protection.
The OBS is a non-profit company that is tasked to receive, investigate and resolve complaints that arise in the banking sector. The OBS provides recourse to aggrieved customers of banks where consumers have suffered losses that are the result of maladministration by banks. We aim to do this in a fair and independent manner.
“In 2019, we closed over 5 996 cases. More than 2 356 of those cases were related to allegations of maladministration by banks. The types of complaints included issues such as allegations of accounts settled and disputes around bank fees and charges. In many of these cases, where we found that there was maladministration on the part of the banks, we made appropriate recommendations in line with the merits of each matter. The recommendations made included monies being written off or refunds being made to bank customers,” says Steyn.
In order to ensure that all South Africans have access to a professional service that would ordinarily be too expensive for most consumers to afford, OBS services are rendered by qualified lawyers free of charge to complainants.
“We also have a mandate to create awareness of the existence of our office amongst the general public and to educate consumers about banking matters which may be of benefit to them.”