Watch-outs of the week: Job scams preying on the desperate

Your weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information

04 September 2020 - 18:08
As a result of Covid-19, scams around jobs, loans and investments are rife. Stock image.
As a result of Covid-19, scams around jobs, loans and investments are rife. Stock image.
Image: 123RF/rawpixel

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

That financial lifeline offer could sink you

With so many people having lost their jobs or small businesses this year as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, scams around jobs, loans and investments are rife. The Momentum/Unisa Consumer Financial Vulnerability Index (CFVI) declined to its lowest level ever during the second quarter of 2020.


That means consumer finances are in a “very vulnerable state” — in terms of income, expenditure, savings, and debt servicing — as a direct consequence of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown.

Quinton e-mailed me a few days ago to tell me about a scam both he and his daughter fell for.

“We are both unemployed at the moment and I saw an advert claiming that Pick n Pay was looking for cashiers. I sent both our CVs to the e-mail address provided.

“My daughter got a response saying that she was successful and she needed to pay R250 at any Pep store for a criminal-background check, and then send proof of payment to pnpchecks3@gmail.com.

“We later discovered there are no jobs on offer. It’s a lot of money to lose when you have no income.”

Many of the adverts for overseas jobs are also placed by fraudsters, preying on the desperate. The first rule for job seekers is to disengage immediately if an employment agent asks you to pay a fee to them. Genuine recruitment agents are paid by the companies offering the positions.

The same goes for loan applications. Genuine credit providers do not demand upfront payments or an administrative fee to process a loan application. And they don’t approve loans without doing a thorough risk analysis. They also have to be registered with the National Credit Regulator, so that’s the first check you should do.

Covid-19 has also given rise to all manner of “get rich quick” schemes that lure people with promises of low interest loans or high return investments. The Planet49 “Covid-19 relief promotion” scheme claimed to support local grocery chains but actually harvested participants’ personal information (PI) to sell to third parties. When criminals have your ID number, they’re able to buy your entire profile from the dark web, including your full name, credit record, where you live, the amount outstanding on your bond, your phone number and more. And they can use that information to change your internet banking password, access credit in your name and impersonate you to your insurer or investment company to get their hands on your funds and benefits.

Your personal information is incredibly valuable — guard it appropriately.

It pays to interrogate

Knowing which questions to ask is key to ensuring you don’t get into trouble in consumerland. A mistake many consumers make when buying things is asking an assistant: “Can I return this?” The assistant answers yes, and the customer assumes they’ll be refunded, but the store policy is to issue a credit note or allow an exchange when non-defective goods are returned. As is their legal right.

That’s because we as consumers have responsibilities as well as rights. When we buy from a walk-in store, we get to look at and touch products, and, in the case of clothes, try them on, before buying.

That’s why retailers are not legally compelled to take back non-defective products at all. They do so as a customer service, but they seldom do refunds. The only time you get to return a non-defective product — within a week — for a refund is if you buy online. That’s because you couldn’t engage with or try it on before purchase.

That brings to me to Shaan’s story. She bought a bikini top from a Durban store, but wasn’t allowed to try it on, “due to Covid-19”. “I asked several times if I could return the item if it didn't fit as was told I could.

“I assumed 'return' meant for cash refund, not an exchange or a voucher. The top didn't fit, so I returned the next day to get a refund — with slip and tags.  

“I was refused a refund and offered a voucher. I don’t want a voucher as I never shop at that store; I went there specifically for that item. If I knew that was their policy I would never have bought the garment. I thought refusing cash refunds was illegal?”

No, it’s not, not if the goods are not defective, and you bought them in the traditional way. (The CPA allows consumers to return defective goods within six months for their choice of refund, replacement or repair.) But by refusing to allow Shaan to try on that top, her transaction was essentially akin to an online purchase — she had no way of making sure the product was fit for purpose before she paid for it.

And because of that, she should have been entitled to a refund, given that the top had not been worn and was in a resaleable condition, in my view.

Moral of the story: it’s never been more essential to interrogate a store’s returns policies than now, given the Covid complications.

Beware the fraudsters-posing-as bank-officials scam

If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank’s fraud department, there’s a very good chance the caller is not a banker, they’re the fraudster. And if you co-operate with them by reading out the “codes” being sent to you by SMS, you’ll be giving them the one-time-PIN they need to shop for themselves on your credit card account.

I’ve been warning about this for many months now, but just today I’ve heard from three people — all elderly — who were scammed in this way.

Here’s how it typically happens. The caller claims to be from your bank’s credit card division, and says, in urgent tones, that multiple potentially fraudulent transactions are about to be processed. When you say they are not your transactions, the call asks for your card number and expiry date “to check if you have your card in your possession”.

And then asks you to read out the numbers being texted to you to stop the fraudulent transactions.

Armed with your card details and the one-time-PIN, they can transact as you.

WHAT TO DO: Add your bank’s fraud division to your contacts' list in your cellphone. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, asking you, in urgent tones, for your banking information and “codes” sent to you via SMS, end the call and call your bank from your own contacts' list to check if they have picked up any fraudulent transactions on your account.

Please share this information, especially with elderly credit card holders. The losses being suffered, on a large scale, are causing huge financial and emotional suffering.

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.

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