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How many people fall for scams in South Africa

New data from consumer credit reporting agency TransUnion shows that during desperate financial times, people often resort to desperate means to provide for their families. This can open them up to scam artists.

A year after the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, its economic impact continues. This is the message contained in the latest findings from the Consumer Pulse Report by Trans Union showing the the majority of (87%) consumers remain concerned about their ability to pay their bills and loans.

Only 3% of surveyed households indicated their finances have fully recovered since being negatively impacted by the pandemic. Just over half (51%) said they’re not recovered.

South Africans do however, remain upbeat, with 76% of respondents optimistic about the future, and 54% confident their household finances will fully recover within the next 12 months.

Consumers acknowledge both savings and credit are increasingly important during this uncertain time, with 83% of households reporting they now view savings as more important than before the Covid-19 pandemic, and 91% of households consider access to credit important, with 23% considering it extremely important.

Fraudsters stay active

Trans Union’s data pointed to scammers who continue to prey on financial vulnerability caused by the outbreak of Covid-19, and resulting lockdown periods.

Just over one in three (37%) of South African consumers said they are aware of a digital fraud attempt related to Covid-19 targeting them in the last three months, and 5% fell victim to the attempt.

Among those targeted, unemployment related scams remain the most common scheme (29%), followed by phishing (28%) and third-party seller scams on legitimate online retail websites (24%), Trans Union said.

Consumers are adopting a range of strategies to deal with the financial impact of Covid-19, the credit reporting firm said.

A third (33%) of negatively impacted consumers plan to pay their current bills and loans using savings. While nine in 10 (91%) of all South African consumers consider access to credit important, with 23% considering it extremely important, two-thirds (67%) of respondents have not considered applying for additional credit.

The primary reasons for not applying were the cost of new credit was too high (26%); or they believed their application would be rejected due to their income (32%) or their credit history (25%), the report stated.

SABRIC, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre, has previously warned bank clients that cybercriminals are exploiting the spread of coronavirus for their own gain using “Coronamania” panic to spread coronavirus scams.

Coronavirus scams exploit people’s concerns for their health and safety and pressure them into being tricked using social engineering. Social Engineering is manipulative and exploits human vulnerability because criminals know that the weakest link in the information security chain is the human being.

These scams include spoofed emails offering products such as masks, or fake offerings of vaccines, leading to phishing websites. These emails come from seemingly realistic and reputable companies which manipulate people into clicking on links. Some of these websites prompt the user for personal information which ending up in the hands of cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals are also using SMS Phishing, more commonly known as SMishing, to trick victims into clicking on a link disguised as information on a coronavirus breakout in their area to steal their credentials. Some of these texts claim to provide free masks or pretend to be companies that have experienced delays in deliveries due to the coronavirus.

Phishing & SMishing

  • Do not click on links or icons in unsolicited emails.
  • Never reply to these emails. Delete them immediately.
  • Do not believe the content of unsolicited emails blindly. If you are concerned about what is being alleged in the email, use your own contact details to contact the sender and confirm.
  • Check that you are on the authentic/real site before entering any personal information.
  • Do not click on links or icons in unsolicited SMSs.
  • Do not reply to these SMSs. Delete them immediately.
  • Do not believe the content of unsolicited SMSs blindly. If you are worried about what is alleged, use your own contact details to contact the sender to confirm.
  • Regard urgent security alerts, offers or deals as warning signs of a hacking attempt.

Similarly, the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) warned the public of potential criminal elements seeking to exploit the global community in relation to the Covid-19 and flu vaccines.

With the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour, Interpol said the swindling is expected to be in relation to the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of Covid-19 and flu vaccines.

This also includes examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.

In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the organisation Cybercrime Unit showed that of the 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.

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