How to avoid online scams


Each year, South Africans lose over R2,2 billion to online scams. Sadly, many of those who fall prey to scammers are senior citizens who can sometimes be a little less scam-savvy. Here’s some useful information to help you stay ahead of the game.

Is it a scam?

Online scams come in many different guises and if you’re active online, there’s a good chance you’ll have come across a few already. Ever received an email from SARS notifying you of a substantial tax rebate? What about the one from a wealthy Nigerian family in need of your help (and bank account details) to get a vast sum of money out of the country in return for a sizeable reward? Or how about an email from your bank requesting your username and password – ever received one of those?

If ever you’re in doubt about the authenticity of an email, the first question to ask is whether it looks and sounds too good to be true. If the answer is ‘yes’, it more than likely is.

Next, ask yourself whether or not you were expecting an email of this nature. For example, if you haven’t yet submitted your tax return, you certainly won’t be expecting a refund from SARS. Similarly, if you receive an email or SMS to say you’ve won a competition, but you don’t recall entering it, ignore it.

The bottom line is that most online scams are either trying to persuade you to part with your money or personal information, which is then used by the party involved to secure credit and loans. So, it pays to be suspicious of any electronic communication that asks you to pay money into an unknown account or divulge sensitive information.

Here are three ways to protect yourself online:

1. NEVER part with personal information

If you ever receive an email requesting sensitive personal information (this includes your ID, passport, driver’s license, payslip, usernames, passwords and pin numbers) or one that asks you to confirm or update your details over the phone, ignore it – even if it appears to be from your bank or another company you deal with regularly. If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of an email, play it safe and contact the company in question, using the contact details supplied on their website – not the ones included in the email.

2. NEVER click on a link in an email

Typically, phishing scams will instruct you to click on a link within an email in order to update or confirm your personal details. When you follow this type of link, you’ll be taken to a web page that has been designed to look exactly like the original site. One way to tell whether or not the site is legitimate is by looking at the URL – sites of this nature are usually not secure and will often start with http:// rather than the usual https://.

3. ALWAYS use strong passwords to safeguard your accounts

When creating this type of password, you’ll need to include uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols. And while strong passwords need to be at least six characters long, the more characters you add, the stronger it will be.

Think you may have been scammed?

If you think you’ve been the victim of an online scam – perhaps you’ve paid money to a third party as instructed and heard nothing since, or a one-time-pin (OTP) has been sent to your phone when you haven’t been shopping or transacting online – get in touch with the Fraud division of your bank as quickly as possible.