February is the month of love. While we are spoiling our loved ones with tokens of our love and appreciation, we must remember that this is a time when cyber criminals are spreading their own brand of love by targeting the bank accounts of online shoppers.

"The world has been significantly disrupted by the Covid-19 Pandemic which has set the us firmly on the path of no return. Consumerism has shifted to online channels to practice safer shopping. Holidays and special occasions such as Black Friday, Christmas, and Valentine’s day saw significant online traffic in 2020 and 2021. Statistics show that online shopping increased by almost 250% at the end of last year and that global online shopping during February 2021 increased by 150% over the corresponding period in 2020. What is concerning though is the reports from the South African Fraud Prevention Service which pointed out that impersonation fraud increased by 337% in 2020. This means that criminals are aggressively targeting their victims," said Reana Steyn, the Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS).

Practice good management

Consumers are often unsuspecting victims when it comes to impersonation fraud only finding out that they have been targeted when they uncover the extent of the damage that cyber criminals have caused.  Steyn points out that this usually leads to a stressful situation for banks and consumers who are trying their best to manage the situation.

“Unfortunately, we see a lot of frustrated consumers trying to mitigate the damage that has been caused by these criminals. Many consumers do turn to their banks to try and work things out, but many consumers eventually turn to the OBS when matters cannot be resolved with their banks. The role of the OBS is to investigate  disputes that cannot be resolved following discussions between consumers and their banks. Therefore, we encourage consumers to not only remain vigilant when it comes to their online shopping activities, but they need to fastidiously manage their bank account and their relationship with their bank,” said Steyn.

Be attentive

Steyn adds that your relationship with your bank – as a consumer – requires you to pay constant attention to the status of your bank account. 

As the account holder, it is your duty to manage your financial affairs, not the bank. The banks duty is to act upon the account holder’s mandate and this responsibility cannot be completely delegated to anyone else if one is to maintain a good relationship.

“Although the bank undertook to take reasonable care in the day-to-day administration and service delivery to customers as per the Code of Banking Practice, the OBS cannot hold banks responsible or ask them to pay for mistakes that occurred following the fault of consumers”, Reana added.  Therefore, she advised that account holders must actively participate in the management of their bank accounts. Any unhappiness or  concerns regarding the account must immediately be reported to the bank as the consumers first point of recourse, but this can or course only happen if one checks the account regularly and is fully aware of all the transactions that go through the account.  

Be selective when it comes to trust

We have already pointed out what consumers need to do when it comes to maintaining their relationship with their bank and being attentive when it comes to the daily management of their bank accounts. The final step when it comes to good banking practice is to be selective when it comes to trust.

“One of the most common ways that cyber criminals catch consumers unawares is through phishing emails and/or smishing SMS notifications. These emails and SMS notifications can be engineered to look exactly like communication that would come from your bank. The other very common criminal practice is vishing – a phone call from a fraudster pretending to be from the bank.  They often tell a story that fraud is about to take place and the consumer will lose all his/her money unless they act quickly and share the number that is being sent to the consumer’s cell phone. In some instances, they  ask for the card number, banking online password or One Time Pin (OTP), profile number or account number. Using these details, they download the mobile banking App and register the unsuspecting consumers which then allows the fraudsters access to the consumers’ banking profile.

It is vital to remember that your bank will never send you a message, or give you a phone call, asking you for personal information like your ID number, home address, bank account number or a NB one-time-pin that is needed to complete a transaction. In these cases, a bank representative will call you and ask you to go to your nearest branch to resolve the query. Never provide any personal information by email, phone, SMS, or WhatsApp. All banks have fraud hotlines. Therefore, if you suspect that there is fraud, report it,” concludes Steyn.

Tips on how to establish and maintain a healthy and happy bank-customer relationship:

  • Shop around for a bank and bank account that caters to your specific needs as a customer.
  • Go through your account statements monthly, or even daily/weekly if need be  and immediately report any inconsistencies found.
  • Keep record of all signed documents and agreements entered into with the bank.
  • Be aware – Always remember that legitimate businesses will never ask you for your personal, sensitive, or confidential banking information. Anyone who does this is probably trying to scam you. Report to the bank immediately.
  • Do not 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 do not panic – Since these criminals frequently play on your emotions, keep a cool head, and hang up the phone. Immediately call your bank, credit card company, or wherever the caller claimed to be from and verify whether there is a real problem.
  • Always have your bank’s fraud department or other contact details at hand to enable you to call them in an emergency.
  • Be sceptical always – Even if your Caller ID gives the name of a bank, or some other company or organisation, it could be a trick.

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