In these troubling times, we’re all a bit worried about our finances. And, it could be the worst time to be swindled out of your hard-earned cash. More and more, fraudsters are coming up with ways to part even the savviest of us from our money.

Ever read about someone losing money to an online scam? Maybe you thought, ‘How were they silly enough to fall for that?’ We hear so much about scams these days. It’s easy to think we’re wise to all the tricks. But, as our financial lives become increasingly complex, and so much of our spending is online, it’s getting ever easier to be tricked.

According to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service, 22% of South Africans who bank online fell victim to scams in the last year. Which is thought to be the tip of the iceberg.

Many online scam victims keep quiet, through embarrassment or because they think there’s no point. The losses can be devastating. Pensions representing a lifetime’s savings, deposits for a new home running into thousands. But it’s possible to beat the scammers, if you know how to protect yourself.

Which online scams do you need to be aware of right now?

Online Scam 1: The holiday that never was

You spot the perfect holiday home online. And, great news, it’s cheaper than on other sites, and it’s available for your dates. Think before you book. Because millions of Rands a year are lost by holidaymakers booking homes and apartments that don’t exist. Or, they aren’t owned by the people taking the money.

Scammers set up legit-looking websites, often lifting photos from genuine ones, and take payment upfront by bank transfer. Then they disappear. Some victims of this online scam don’t find out they’ve been cheated until they turn up with their suitcases.

How can you protect yourself?

Ideally, book through a company that’s a member of the African Business Travel Association. If you want to book directly with a property owner, look out for warning signs. Things like surprisingly cheap prices and full availability. Speak to owners on a landline number before you pay anything. And avoid paying by bank transfer or EFT. Paying by credit card gives you protection.

Online Scam 2: The ‘fauxmance’ trick

Scammers love to target the vulnerable. And we’re never more exposed than when we’re looking for love. Criminal gangs set up fake profiles on dating websites, often claiming to be living abroad. They spend months gaining a potential victim’s trust. Then comes the request for money. For a plane ticket to visit you, or a sob story like a sick relative. If you pay, you’ll get more requests. And, when the money runs out, so does the ‘relationship’.

How can you protect yourself?

Spot the danger signs. These online scammers become affectionate quickly. They ask lots about you to gain information they can use to win your trust. But, they say little about themselves and avoid giving information you could check. Don’t send money or give financial details to someone you haven’t met. No matter how genuine they seem. Be suspicious of people who have out of the ordinary jobs. And if someone keeps promising to meet you, but cancels at the last minute. Never give someone you don’t know money to come and visit you.

Scam 3: The non-existent puppy

Fraudsters advertise popular dog breeds online, either cheaply or free but for the cost of delivery. There’s often a sob story. And they’ll pretend to check you’re a responsible pet owner. You’ll be told seeing the dog isn’t possible because they’re too far away. Or, the property is difficult to get to. They’ll ask for a deposit or the whole price via EFT. Then scam a bit more for insurance or a travel cage. You won’t get a dog and your money will be gone.

How can you protect yourself?

Don’t buy an animal if you can’t see it, in its home with its mother, and be suspicious of pedigree pups sold on the cheap. Help stamp out scammers by only buying from reputable breeders who are part of the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA), or getting a rescue dog.

Scam 4: Fake shopping

‘Pharming’ is when scammers set up a fake version of the website of a credible company. They redirect users to it, either by hacking the company’s system or the customer’s. Often, the first the victim knows is when their details are used to commit identity fraud.

How can you protect yourself?

Before you input any bank details on a website, check the address is exactly what it should be. Sometimes it turns into a series of numbers. Often there’s a tiny change in spelling. Always make sure there’s a padlock icon in the address bar. Protecting your computer with a good antivirus program will help prevent hackers installing the malware that redirects you to fake sites. Try Kaspersky Total Security.

Scam 6: Advanced fee fraud

Should you pay a fee before you get money, goods or a service? Not always! More than 5 000 advanced fee scams were reported to the SA Reserve bank in the last five years. They’re also known as 419-scams. This is when scammers try to trick you by offering you a substantial sum of money. It could be something like an investment, in exchange for an upfront fee. But, when you pay it, they disappear. The business does not exist. They have your money and you get nothing in return.

How can you protect yourself?

Don’t trust anyone offering a large loan with a very low interest rate and/or no credit checks. Advanced fee scams also include winning a large amount of money without entering a competition. Or, inheriting money from an unknown relative. Always read the message twice. Look out for spelling and grammar mistakes. Double-check e-mail addresses that don’t match up with the company name. And, be aware of suspicious social media messages.

Where can you find proper financial advice?

As well as actual scams, it’s very easy to lose money to financial products that are legal, but unsuitable or overly risky for your circumstances, as recent mis-selling scandals show.

If you’re considering any major kind of investment or financial plan, independent financial advice from an advisor registered with the Financial Sector Conduct Authority is the best protection.

Where can you report fraud?

From online dating scams to identity theft, phishing, smishing and even vishing, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the many different ways you could be conned.
To find out more information on the latest banking scams and fraudster activities, visit

If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, you should immediately contact the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service.
• Emergency hotline: 0800 029 999
• WhatsApp support line: 0600-123456
• Email: [email protected]

By Frances Quinn and Tiana Cline

Source: Woman & Home 

Article written by


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