What to do if you’re a victim of fraud or a scam in South Africa

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  • Scammers steal millions of rands from unsuspecting victims every year in South Africa.
  • Getting your money back after you’ve been scammed or swindled is difficult, but knowing how to act in the aftermath is vital.
  • Canceling your cards, alerting your bank, and reaching out to the relevant authorities and organizations will give you the best chance of getting some money back.
  • And reaching out for emotional support in the aftermath of the crime can also be a crucial step towards recovery.
  • Here’s how to respond if you’ve been conned, scammed, or swindled in South Africa for the best chance of getting your money back.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

If a con artist has swindled you out of money in South Africa, you’re not alone – in fact, you’re likely in a family of millions.

Collectively, South Africans lost more than R1.5 billion in banking and card fraud alone in 2020, according to the South African Banking Risk Information Center (SABRIC). Include other scams in the mix, and those victims that are too ashamed to report it, and the number is likely to be significantly higher.

For as long as there’s been money, con-artists have found new ways to commit fraud. Whether you’ve been targeted directly in a phishing scam, had your card skimmed, been misled by a spouse or partner, or were the victim of a SIM swap, it’s a profoundly personal crime that leaves unsure how, or if, to respond.

Central to this confusion and shame is that scammers are experts at deception, misdirection, and outright lies, to the point that they’re able to manipulate most victims to inadvertently play some hand in facilitating their own loss.

SABRIC CEO Kalyani Pillay says that fault is usually not with the technology but with the human factor. Scam artists are highly skilled at using social engineering, and they use this to manipulate their victims to extract the information necessary to commit most fraud-related crimes.

“Criminals are always looking for ways to exploit digital platforms to defraud victims, but the mitigation strategies by Banks are very robust, so it is easier to target people, as they are the weakest link,” says Pillay.

How you react in the aftermath of a scam depends on the circumstances. But your actions may also be critical in the recovery of all or any money, says attorney Ayanda Katjitae, partner at SKM Attorneys.

“In South Africa, fraud is defined as ‘the incorrect and intentional making of a misrepresentation that causes actual and or potential prejudice to another’.” The use of the term is in its widest possible meaning and is intended to all aspects of economic crime and acts of dishonesty,” says Katjitae.

Although the legal definition of fraud is broad, it includes four specific elements: wrongness, misrepresentation, intent, and prejudice.

How to respond

Given the sheer diversity of scams and crimes that are currently swirling around the world, there’s no one universal way to respond. And given that not everyone can pack up a suitcase of the scammer’s designer clothing and beat a hasty retreat, how you respond immediately after the fact may directly impact how likely you are to get your money or possessions back.

1. Call the authorities if there’s an imminent danger

If a crime is in progress, and you or someone else is in danger, it’s critical to call local authorities. The South African Police Services (10111), private security companies, and even neighborhood watch groups may assist.

Katjitae highlights that it’s necessary to report the crime to the police even if it’s not an emergency, though you can do so some days after the incident.

“It is important to report the fraud to the nearest police station with jurisdiction, provide detailed information in affidavit form along with all supporting documentation that can prove the fraud,” Katjitae says.

2. Contact your bank

Contact your bank’s fraud prevention line as soon as you realise what’s happened. If you wired money to someone, contact that organisation’s fraud department immediately. If you paid using cryptocurrency, your best bet is to contact the company you used to send the money.

A consultant will cancel your cards and stop additional transactions before they happen, and possibly limit further damage. Many banking apps now also include a function to immediately stop a card in the event of card loss or fraud.

Time is of the essence. If you’ve been the victim of credit card fraud, for example, you may be able to request a chargeback, but this must happen within 120 days.

It also pays to be vigilant with your accounts, even if the amount is small. In some card skimming cases, criminals will test the validity of a credit card with tiny, often unnoticeable amounts before making a sizeable purchase. At that stage, it may be too late.

3. Other entities to contact

According to the Banking Association of South Africa, it’s also critical to contact relevant organizations if you suspect you’re the victim of identity fraud. The association says you should call your bank, insurance company and other businesses where you may be a client so that they can flag any suspicious behaviour.

If you believe someone has stolen your identity or compromised your bank account, it’s also essential to put an immediate freeze on credit in your name. You can do this by contacting South Africa’s credit bureaus.

4. Change all your passwords

Change your passwords to all online accounts like email, social media, and banking profile, just to be safe. If a thief has access to your personal information or even your mobile device, they may still be able to transfer money and make purchases.

5. Call the South African Fraud Prevention Service

The South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) is an invaluable resource – particularly if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You can contact SAFPS on 011 867 2234 or via email at safps@safps.org.za for help with fraud prevention, combating financial fraud and crime, and help if you are a victim of impersonation or fraud.

6. Get emotional support

Fraud and scams are intimate crimes that can be deeply distressing, but there are professionals and organizations who can assist with the emotional turmoil.

Many therapists and counsellors in private practice in South Africa are well equipped to assist victims of all types of crime.

If you are unsure who to contact, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). They have licensed professionals available to help with panic, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD, among many other mental health consequences you may be suffering in the aftermath of the crime.

SADAG is available on 0800 567 567.

Getting your cash back

From the bank

Unfortunately, getting your cash back is often tricky, particularly if your bank can prove you offered up sensitive information like one time pins, a credit card number, or transferred millions to a stranger you met online with no paper trail to back you up.

Katjitae says how you begin the process of reclaiming what’s yours depends on the circumstances, and “whether the fraud was related to you entering into a contract, online payment, investment and securities fraud, or identity theft”, for example.

“In cases related to the banks which have their own fraud department, the fraud can be reported directly to them to investigate the unauthorized transactions or related fraud,” says Katjitae.

This process includes providing all relative information supporting your complainant, and the bank will evaluate this when making a decision.

“The bank may either accept your fraud case and choose to refund you, sometimes this may be on an ex gratia basis, or they may reject your claim. Should they reject your claim, you are entitled to lodge a dispute with the Ombudsman for Banking Services so that the matter can be reinvestigated,” Katjitae says.

With the help of the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS) is an independent body that resolves individual complaints about banking services and products.

All of South Africa’s reputable banks participate with the OBS, and provided the case is in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, they will handle the matter and deliver a ruling at no charge to the complainant.

There’s no guarantee that the finding will be in your favour, and if the bank believes the customer does not have a strong case, they may see the Ombud’s process through. In some cases, however, banks may agree to a settlement before the complaint makes its way through the entire process.

It’s a process that depends highly on the merits of the case – but if your bank refuses to budget, it’s a viable option to follow. In 2020, the Ombudsman recovered R16 million for banking customers. During this reporting year, the OBS said fraud played the most significant role in the increase of current accounts’ complaints for the previous year. Although in many instances, the Ombud’s office cannot legally hold banks responsible for customers’ losses, it has in the past found in favor of victims even if they were partially negligent.

You can submit a complaint to the Ombudsman for Banking Services directly on the OBS website.

Directly from a swindler

Getting your own back directly from a third-party or swindler not overseen by an Ombud’s office can be tricky and costly, says Katjitae. And it’s essential to follow the correct channels to avoid any unwanted legal or other consequences.

As a victim, you may be able to institute criminal proceedings to prosecute the culprit, civil proceedings to recover loss of any assets or monies, or both. In either of these cases, it’s best to consult with a lawyer versed in such matters.

“Civil proceedings instituted against the fraudster is the most effective but costly avenue to recover assets and monies, and such proceedings can be assisted with interdict applications to freeze bank accounts of the stolen monies,” Katjitae says.

If you follow this process, you will need to prove the elements of fraud to ensure that your claims are successful in criminal and civil proceedings.

“Accordingly,” Katjitae says, “it is prudent to seek out legal advice before reporting or launching fraud claims to ensure that correct information is submitted and that no liability for negligence be admitted.”

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