South Africa’s online retail industry – though small in comparison to developed international markets – has seen rapid growth over the last 12 months.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown saw online retail sales soar by approximately 40%. According to Anupam Pahuja, vice-president for India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa at PayPal, “A key factor contributing to this growth, was the strong increased adoption of ecommerce and a digital first approach amongst both businesses and consumers worldwide.”

As anticipated, the effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact our daily lives for months to come and consumers should take advantage of online shopping opportunities; yet take extra precautions to stay safe and make smart financial decisions. Whether you’re purchasing groceries or medical supplies online, sending money to family or friends in need, donating money to a charity close to your heart, or even if you are looking for new employment – local and international options are endless – it’s convenience at the click of a button.

A statement released by the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), indicated that fraud increased dramatically in South Africa over the past 12 months, with impersonation fraud increasing by 337%.

Pahuja says: “Whilst, online shopping certainly has its perks, unfortunately fraudsters often use times of uncertainty to exploit loopholes and take advantage of consumers. At PayPal, we want to make sure that our customers have the resources and tools available to them to identify potential fraud schemes and avoid becoming a victim.”

He offers the following advice:

Check your emails

* Scammers can easily fake the “friendly name,” but it’s more difficult to fake the full name. For example – a sender like “PayPal Service (” is not a legitimate message. If you are unsure of a sender, look at previous communication, the URL, how you were addressed etc.

* No company will ask you for sensitive information like your password, bank account, or credit card details over email.

* If there’s a link in an email, always check it before you click. A link could look perfectly safe like, but if you move your mouse over the link you’ll see the true destination. If you aren’t certain, don’t click on the link. Just visiting a bad website could infect your machine.

* If you do click a link in an email, be sure to review the URL of the site where you land. It is easy for bad guys to copy the look of a legitimate website, so you need to check that you are on the correct website.

Common Fraud Themes

If you find yourself in a situation questioning whether this could be a scam, there are two important themes to keep in mind to help you decipher if you’re dealing with fraud and potentially at risk:

* A fraudster will offer something irresistible, usually something that is too good to be true; or

* A fraudster will request something and wrap it in a fake urgent scenario that encourages you to panic and act quickly, without caution.

As local and global online shopping continues to rise in South Africa, here are some of the common trends to be aware of as you transact online:

* Online Merchant Fraud: As we continue to experience a higher-than-normal price on items such as, hand sanitiser, face masks, and other items that help to protect against COVID-19, a fraudster may claim to have these products at a good price, yet fail to deliver the products to the customer. Before making any payment through an online merchant, be sure to research the merchant, look out for reviews to ensure you’re shopping with a reputable seller.

* Medical Treatment Scam: As South Africa’s roll-out plan for the Covid-19 vaccine is still being secured, fraudsters may take advantage of the situation by selling fake vaccinations or medical treatments that they claim can be used to prevent or treat the virus – fraudsters are opportunistic, so check before you click. Verify the legitimacy of any medication, using resources available from the South African Government website, and be aware that vaccinations can and should only be done at approved clinics.

* Charity Scam: A fraudster may contact you asking for a donation to support a charity and will use every opportunity to tug at your heart-strings. Often they will use an emergency or rally support for a relief effort. Before making a donation online, make sure you look into the charity, check ratings and understanding how much of your donation will go to the cause you are looking to support.

* Family Emergency Scam: A fraudster may pose as a relative or a friend and ask you to send money immediately to help with an emergency, sometimes insisting that the request remain secret. In these situations, the fraudster often tries to trick their victim into sending money before the victim realises the emergency is fake. Before responding to these types of messages, make sure to take steps to verify the identity of the person asking for money and never click on any links that seem Phishy. You can do this in a number of ways, including asking them questions that a stranger would not be able to answer, or reaching out to another family member or friend who may be able to verify the emergency.

* Employment Scam: As more and more jobs are impacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fraudsters may use this as an opportunity to trick victims into paying the fraudster for an employment opportunity that “guarantees” to make the victim money – again if it sounds too good to be true – it usually is. Be aware that in most cases, opportunities that make these types of guarantees are often not legitimate and could end up costing you money.

* Invoice Fraud Scheme: A fraudster may take advantage of these uncertain times by posing as a reputable foundation or corporate brand to request funds or donations with a fraudulent invoice. If you receive an invoice, from a well-known corporation or non-profit organisation, that you did not request, always be vigilant and protect yourself when clicking on links, opening attachments or receiving false requests for funds. Any invoice sent to you should be reviewed with care to ensure that it is a valid invoice and one that you agreed to pay the requestor prior to receipt of the invoice.

* Fake Debt Scam: A fraudster might contact you representing him or herself as a debt collector or court official, telling you that you must pay money that you don’t actually owe. Before taking any action, make sure to do some research into the claim, by verifying the real numbers for the government agency, office or employee, and DO NOT agree to wire money in order to pay back the debt.

Resources for Reporting Fraud

For any fraud you experience when using another payment method or platform, you can report the incident to a variety of platforms:

* Follow the channels offered by your bank.

* South African Fraud Prevention Service: 0800 029 999 (