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Consumer concerns related to Covid-19 including fears of being infected by the coronavirus while attending to their banking matters and stress related to debt issues have come to the attention of the  Ombudsman for Banking Services.  

 

“In response to President Ramaphosa’s address on the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, we urge consumers to remain calm and to follow the stringent measures in place to protect both themselves and their families,” cautions Reana Steyn the Ombudsman for Banking Services. 

 

Many of the concerns relate to ATM banking, branch visits and handling cash during this pandemic. These concerns are justified as experts across the globe have advised that the coronavirus can be transmitted through surfaces, which would include cash, that may have been handled by infected individuals.

 

“Although technology, in the form of online banking performed by customers in the privacy and safety of their homes may be an option for some, most people in South Africa are not equipped to transact online and rely on cash to make payments at shops and to informal traders. Access to ATMs and to bank branches are a necessity to these customers,” says Steyn.

 

 The OBS therefore urges  bank customers to maintain the social distancing and hygiene rules by sanitising and or washing their hands and  to refrain from touching their face, nose, eyes or mouth before and after utilising ATMs and coming into contact with cash or any other surface that may not be disinfected.

 ATM banking tips

  • Maintain the two-metre social distance rule while standing in queues as well as when requesting and receiving assistance from bank personnel;
  • Wear gloves to use the ATM and dispose of same once done;
  • Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water and/or sanitise your hands before and after using the ATM.

Branch visit tips

While banks also observe the same stringent measures to protect their staff and customers, it is incumbent on the customers to follow these guidelines and to protect their own personal health and safety.

  • When inside a bank and considering the branch size, customers are advised to maintain personal space and not stand too close to each other in the queue;
  • Customers are reminded to carry tissues or wipes to cough in and discard thereafter.
  • Customers are advised to wear masks if possible.


Debt management

“All of  the  banks have offered some form of relief to their customers concerning their debt repayments, but we encourage bank customers to continue to pay their debts if at all possible, and if not,  to immediately inform and consult  with their banks about their current financial situation, enquiring about credit insurance and other options available, or to seek professional financial advice,” the Ombudsman says.

 

Online banking tips

“Unfortunately, we have been informed that there is already an increase in fraud related to the Covid-19 pandemic and we therefore anticipate an increase in online banking fraud complaints to follow,” says Steyn.

The scammers have taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to defraud consumers through sending hoax emails offering products such as masks, or fake offerings of vaccines, luring customers to phishing website, Steyn adds.

“A new favourite seems to be SMS phishing, more commonly known as Smishing, where  victims are tricked into clicking on a link disguised as information related to the Covid-19 breakout in their area, or some threat to urgently update their banking information, to fraudulently access their personal accounts. 

“We would like to warn consumers to take extra caution with their emails and text messages during this time and when transacting online,” Steyn said.

The Ombudsman recommends maintaining extra vigilance around the following circumstances:

  • When receiving a call from someone claiming to be calling from the bank and asking for your OTP number and or bank card details.
  • Beware of suspicious SMSes containing links with requests to update confidential banking information under the threat of losing access to your banking account, platform or app.
  • If a bank customer suddenly loses cellphone reception and/or receives an SMS from the cellphone network provider of a pending sim swap, immediately report this to your bank before calling the service provider.

Be aware – legitimate businesses will never ask you for your personal, sensitive, or confidential banking information, in the branch, online or even over the phone.

  • Review your account statements regularly, especially if you have access to an online banking facility and can look at your accounts any time. Query disputed transactions with your bank immediately.
  • When shopping online, only place orders with your card on a secure website (https).
  • Do not send emails that quote your card number and expiry date.

TIPS: 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.
  • Don’t give in to pressure – if someone tries to coerce you into giving them sensitive information, hang up and immediately 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 on any of your accounts held with the bank.
  • If you receive an OTP on your phone without having transacted yourself, it is likely that it is a fraudster who 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.

TIPS: To prevent “phishing fraud”:

Fraudulent emails are typically sent to customers to obtain the customer’s confidential internet banking access codes and passwords. Customers are encouraged to pay extra attention to email addresses that may seem genuine, and with what appears to be banking identification.

  • 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.
  • If you need to access your bank’s website, you are advised to type in the entire URL or domain name for your bank in the internet browser.
  • Check that you are on the authentic 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 decipher and change them often.

How to get help from the Ombudsman for Banking Services during the lockdown.

The OBS has taken the following stringent measures to protect both our employees and complainants:


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.

ALTERNATIVELY, 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 them with lodging a complaint against their bank.

 

 

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