Don't fall prey to scamsters

As South Africans, we're very familiar with fraud, corruption, and endless stories of people becoming victims of professional con artists. Vigilance and extra care must be taken so that you or your business don't fall prey to scamsters.

Just trying to keep things running smoothly is probably a big enough challenge on its own for any small business owner. The administrative side of things may also not be your greatest strength and something you try to get over and done as quickly as possible.

These kinds of pressures are exactly what make scamsters so good at their jobs and SMEs soft targets. Losing money this way can cripple your business and you must take steps to flag any suspicious activity.

Identity theft

One of the most common – and most crippling – scams is identity theft and thousands of people fall victim to these crooks every day. Banks, for example, spend millions trying to protect their customers from cheque, credit card, internet banking, and other types of fraud.

  • You already know about not signing blank cheques, protecting your PIN and passwords, and not divulging personal information, right?
  • Your bank or any other institution will never ask you to verify your PIN over the Internet or the phone. Being asked to do this should set off alarm bells immediately.
  • Keep all your ID documents, bank statements and sensitive financial information in a safe place where a limited number of people have access. If any of these go missing, report it immediately.
  • Don't store your passwords on your cell phone, computer, or PDA, and don't SMS these kinds of details to anyone.
  • Always read documents carefully before you sign them. Even if you think you've seen it before or it's coming from a legitimate source, check that nothing seems out of place.
  • When paying for something online, do so only on credible websites and check that the necessary security measures are in place.
  • Don't divulge your personal details or physical address to anyone you don't trust or don't usually do business with.

Gone phishing

Phishing emails are those you receive with offers of riches, begging for money, or supposedly sent by your bank or other institutions, asking to verify certain details, for example. Most of these online scammers are very professional and often look genuine, but be on the lookout for:  

  • A strange URL; that it is indeed the company's web address.
  • Spelling mistakes, blurred images, being asked for your PIN, and poor English (grammar).
  • Links asking you to click through to the site or being requested to call a toll-free number.

You'd be amazed at what lengths the con artists will go to to dupe their victims. If you are just not sure that an email came from the company it claims, contact the company directly and ask them to verify the email or phone call.

Be aware

  • Do thorough background checks on any company asking you for money, including service providers you haven't used before.
  • Look out for fake franchisors. Check their credentials, list of franchisees, terms that seem too easy, or undue pressure to go into business with them.
  • If a deal or offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Huge commissions, no risk, and no obligations are common buzz words used to lure unsuspecting people.
  • If you feel like you're being hustled, back out. For example, being asked for money up front is a sure sign of a scam.

Report any fraudulent activity to the company involved, Business Against Crime (BACSA), or the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS). It may be a good idea to alert your fellow business colleagues and service providers of the scam and hopefully they will do the same.

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