We are all too familiar with the typical scams that occur over the festive season, and while it’s likely that you will be defrauded at least once in your lifetime, there are some things you can do to minimise the damage it causes to your psyche and your wallet.
There are many different ways fraudsters can dip into your pockets, and with the holiday season coming up, these criminals know you will be transacting more and, perhaps, not be as guarded. As always, prevention is better than cure, so Nitesh Patel, Head of Customer Financial Solutions at Standard Bank, suggests familiarising yourself with these common holiday scams.
You see a nice looking holiday home advertised on the internet. You call the ‘agency’ to say you’re interested. They send you details and pictures of the accommodation and it looks perfect. Then they request a minimum of a 50% deposit to secure the booking. It all looks legitimate at this point, but what you don’t know is that they have been collecting deposits from many people for the same fake unit.
How to avoid it:
Ask the holiday vendor for the details of the body corporate or management office to match the name with the owner. If it’s a private person, ask for employment details and a copy of their ID. If they are not legitimate, they will balk at this.
A scammer will rarely agree to meet and show you the property, but if they do, they may claim that they don’t have keys, but you can ‘look from the outside’. This is a huge red flag.
Ask the vendor to chat to you on skype and then do a screenshot to get a copy of their image in case of illegal activity.
Use Google Maps to ensure that the property actually exists.
Scam artists usually choose free methods of advertising.
Try to negotiate a smaller deposit and agree to the balance on the day you get access. This will limit your losses if you are scammed.
If you’ve been scammed, report the perpetrator to the police as soon as possible, and then contact the publication or website in which you saw the ad to get them banned. Also report them on other platforms such as Hellopeter, Facebook and Twitter.
2 Fake travel agencies
Do you know why that great holiday deal you found online seems too-good-to-be-true? Because it is. Fraudsters create high-quality websites for fake travel agencies, offering insane deals that tourists can’t resist. They convince you to pay on the spot, but when the scammers feel they’ve stolen enough money, they shut down the website and simply create a new one.
How to avoid it:
Ensure the agent is a member of ASATA (Association of South African Travel Agents) or IATA (International Air Transport Association), the bodies that protect the traveller should anything go wrong.
Scout Hellopeter.com to see if people are complaining about the operator.
Call the resort or hotel and ask if they are undergoing renovations, or if there is construction in the vicinity. The last thing you want is to be woken up by a jackhammer every morning.
If you’ve been scammed, report the fraudsters to the police, various travel associations and publications that you saw them advertise in.
3 ATM fraud
ATM fraud is as common as the methods are varied, and distracted holidaymakers are the jackpot for these fraudsters. The three typical types are: Card swapping – Criminals distract you while you are entering your PIN and then swap your card; Card skimming – This involves tampering with an ATM by placing an additional card reader over the ATM’s card reader, with a hidden camera, fraudsters steal your card details and PIN; and Vandalism – Criminals vandalise ATMS to force you to use ones in poorly lit, quiet areas, or to trap your card in the card reader.
How to avoid it:
Check for visible signs that the ATM has not been tampered with before you transact, specifically where you insert your card.
If your card is swallowed, don’t accept help from strangers. Immediately call your bank to cancel it instead.
Stand close to the ATM and use your hand and body as shields when entering your PIN.
If you’ve been defrauded, contact your bank immediately to cancel your card, and alert the closest security guard of the event. If your card has been cloned, and funds withdrawn from your account, register your claim with your bank as soon as possible.
4 Identity theft
Identity theft is a form of fraud in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person’s identity. The purpose of identity theft is predominantly to access resources or to obtain credit or other benefits in the victim’s name. It can be many months before you find out, and it can take a long time to undo the damage to your credit reputation.
How to avoid it:
Shred all documents that contain your personal information and do not throw anything away that someone else could use to impersonate you.
Make sure all your accounts have strong passwords that are not easy to decipher.
Never just respond to an e-mail or sms that asks you to insert or update your personal and banking information by clicking on a website link provided in the content of the message. Rather copy and paste the link into your internet browser, as this will enable you to determine whether you are accessing an authentic website, or not.
Be careful with the type of information that you share on social media sites and make use of privacy settings.
Only carry identification documentation when it’s absolutely necessary and keep these documents safely locked away when not in use.
Do not get taken in by scammers who send messages telling you that you have won a prize, or inherited money.
Periodically examine your credit report to ensure that there has been no unauthorised activity in your name. You are entitled to 1 free credit report per year from the credit bureaus.
If you’ve been defrauded, report the matter to the police and the SAFPS (Southern African Fraud Prevention Service) on 0860 101 248.
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