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Wendy Knowler’s 'Watch-outs of the week'

Your weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information

21 August 2020 - 16:52 By wendy knowler
Sabric confirmed on Wednesday that a data breach at credit bureau Experian had affected as many as 24 million South Africans.
Sabric confirmed on Wednesday that a data breach at credit bureau Experian had affected as many as 24 million South Africans.
Image: 123RF / Glebstock

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use.

Insist that your dormant store account is closed

We South Africans are now more anxious than usual about being scammed in some way, given this week’s news that credit bureau Experian handed over the personal information of 24 million of us to a fraudster.

That means that all the information someone needs to impersonate us and create havoc with our accounts has landed up in criminal hands.

So now is the time to change your banking passwords, monitor your SMS alerts closely and sign up for an identity theft monitoring service, such as Transunion’s TrueIdentity. And if you have an old retail store card or credit account which you haven’t used in years, make sure it is closed, to avoid a fraudster going on a spending spree in your name.

That’s just what happened to Mazwi Zuma recently. He opened an RCS account via Stuttafords many years ago and, having settled what he owed in 2017, he didn’t spend on the card again.

But the account remained open with a R7 credit and three months ago a fraudster spent R1,328 on that account at a Game branch in Durban.

Zuma discovered that when RCS’ collections team began hounding him to pay up.

With TimesLIVE's help, the account has since been closed, the arrears written off and his credit profile restored.

Asked about such dormant accounts and the fraud danger, RCS CEO Regan Adams said some customers used their cards once a quarter for big purchases.

“So it’s difficult to close accounts for occasional spenders like these which is actually a big segment of our customers, but of course customers can close accounts at any time.”

RCS’ store card gives holders access to credit at more than 26,000 stores.

Adams said that about 1,300 transactions are disputed on average, each month — less than 1% of total transactions — and 95% of those are confirmed as fraud.

Bottom line: if haven’t used a store credit facility in a while and your balance is zero, close it to prevent a fraudster making use of your credit limit. And make sure the company sends you a letter confirming that — this may take some persistence on your part, but it’s vital.

Building on a false foundation 

The builder you’ve called in to quote on building a “granny flat” above your double garage assures you that he is registered with the NHBRC (National Home Builders Registration Council). Should that give your peace of mind?

In short, no — because a builder being NHBRC-registered gives consumers protection only in respect of new builds, not alterations or additions to existing properties.

Sadly, many a dodgy builder has failed to mention the distinction at quote stage, and the homeowner discovers that they are on their own only when they contact the NHBRC to lodge a complaint.

In the case of new builds, don’t just take the builder’s word for it that they are NHBRC registered — ask to see their current registration certificate, and then phone the NHBRC to confirm whether the builder is still registered.

Is your estate agent operating legally?

It’s a similar story with estate agents. They have to be registered with the Estate Agency Affairs Board and have a valid fidelity fund certificate (FFC) to work as an estate agent. Always ask to see their current FFC before engaging with an agent, for purchases or rentals, and especially before entering into any transaction with one.

“It is important to use a registered estate agent as this protects consumers in case of loss of monies deposited into an estate agent’s bank account,” the EAAB says. “By using a registered estate agent one is able to claim against the Estate Agency Fidelity Fund which is intended to reimburse people who have suffered losses due to the theft of trust monies by estate agents.”

The EAAB has also received many complaints from consumers who’ve been scammed out of their rental money.

Fraudsters impersonate an estate agent — usually one with a reputable firm — using fake names and contact details, only to disappear once a consumer deposits money into their bank account.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler