The office of the Ombudsman for Banking Services has been receiving enquiries from consumers about the risks of contracting COVID-19 while attending to their banking matters.

“In response to President Ramaphosa’s various addresses on the measures needed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we urge banking customers to remain calm and to follow the recommended protocols to protect themselves and their families,” counsels Reana Steyn, the Ombudsman for Banking Services.

The concerns that have been expressed tend to focus on using ATMs, making branch visits, handling cash and debt management during the pandemic.

“We would encourage bank customers to consider internet banking from the safety and privacy of their devices and homes wherever possible,” urged Steyn. “However, we realise that some customers may only be able to use ATMS and will still need to visit physical bank branches. We therefore urge bank customers to adhere to the social distancing and hygiene rules at all times,” she added.

ATM banking tips

  • As with all trips outside the home, ensure that you wear a fabric mask to protect yourself and others.
  • Stick to the 2m social distance rule while standing in queues.
  • Maintain the same distance when engaging with bank staff.
  • If possible, wear gloves when using an ATM.
  • In addition, use hand sanitiser (if available) or wash your hands for twenty seconds with soap and warm water as soon as possible after using the ATM, and avoid touching your face.

Branch visit tips

While banks are observing the same stringent measures to protect their staff and customers, bank customers have a responsibility to follow the rules and protect their own personal health and safety.

  • Avoid standing too close to other people inside the bank. If the bank is particularly busy and maintaining social distancing will be challenging, consider returning at a quieter time.
  • Carry tissues or wipes to cough into if necessary, and dispose of these immediately after use.

Debt management

“While some banks have offered some form of debt repayment relief to their customers, we would encourage bank customers to continue to pay their debts wherever possible, to communicate with their banks regarding their current financial situation, and to seek professional financial advice where necessary,” recommended the Ombudsman.

Online banking tips

“Our office anticipates an increase in online banking fraud and related complaints during this time,” said Reana Steyn. “We are aware that scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to attempt new ways of defrauding bank customers and consumers”.

These scams include hoax emails offering products such as masks, or fake offerings of vaccines, leading to phishing websites.

The fraudsters are also using SMS phishing (or “SMishing”) to trick victims into clicking on a link disguised as information related to the COVID-19 outbreak to steal their personal information.

“We would like to warn consumers to take extra caution with their email and text messages and when transacting online,” commented Steyn.

The Ombudsman for Banking Services reiterated the need for consumers to be vigilant when receiving a call from someone claiming to be from their bank and asking them to provide their OTP; when being asked for their bank card details; and if they suddenly lose cellphone reception and/or receive an SMS from their mobile network provider advising them of a pending SIM swap.

  • Be aware – legitimate businesses will never ask you for personal, sensitive, or confidential banking information, either in the branch, online or over the phone.
  • Don’t give in to pressure – if someone tries to coerce you into giving them sensitive information, hang up immediately and contact your bank’s fraud department to report the incident.
  • Stay calm and don’t panic – call your bank immediately after a suspicious call and verify with them whether there is a real problem.
  • Review your account statements regularly; query any disputed transactions with your bank immediately.
  • When shopping online, only place orders with your card on secure websites.
  • Do not include your card number and expiry date in emails.

To prevent “vishing” fraud:

  • Never share personal and confidential information with strangers over the phone.
  • Banks will never ask you to confirm your confidential information over the phone.
  • If you receive an OTP on your phone without having transacted yourself, it could well be that a fraudster has used your personal information. Do not provide the OTP telephonically to anybody. Contact your bank immediately to alert them to the possibility that your information may have been compromised.

To prevent “phishing fraud” (that is, scammers using fraudulent emails to obtain confidential internet banking access codes and passwords), pay attention to email addresses and logos that may at first glance seem genuine.

  • Do not click on links or icons in unsolicited emails.
  • Do not reply to these emails. Delete them immediately.
  • Do not believe the content of unsolicited emails. If you are worried about what is alleged, use your own contact details to contact the sender to confirm.
  • Type the URL (website address) for your bank in the internet browser if you need to access your bank’s webpage.
  • Check that you are on the authentic banking website before entering any personal information.
  • If you think your device might have been compromised, contact your bank immediately and request that your account be blocked.
  • Create complicated passwords that are not easy to guess or decipher and change them often.
  • Never write your password down in a way that anyone else would be able to understand.

How to complain

  • Lodge a formal, written complaint directly with your bank’s dispute resolution department
  • Ask for a complaint reference number from your bank
  • Allow the bank 20 working days in which to respond to your complaint
  • Obtain a written response from your bank, OR
  • Consumers can contact the office of the Ombudsman for Banking Services for free assistance if they experience any banking problems or would like us to assist in lodging a complaint against their bank.