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How to sniff out a fraudster & beware buying goods online via instant EFT

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s “Watch-outs of the Week”

27 November 2020 - 08:26 By wendy knowler
Always be suspicious when engaging with an unknown entity selling goods online - assume it’s a scam unless and until your research reveals otherwise.
Always be suspicious when engaging with an unknown entity selling goods online - assume it’s a scam unless and until your research reveals otherwise.

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

Beware of buying goods online using Instant EFT

That was the warning issued by a trio of regulators — the Financial Sector Conduct Authority, the Payments Association of SA and the Reserve Bank — to consumers on Thursday, on the eve of #BlackFriday sales.

“Instant-EFT” is a payment method offered by a third-party, in partnership with e-commerce stores, which automates payment by consumers to those online stores and provides immediate confirmation of payment to them.

It’s done by a process called screen-scraping, which makes it possible for third parties to access a person’s bank account data and act on their behalf, using their banking access credentials.

“We do not support the use of screen-scraping to effect payments, given that ... screen-scraping puts consumers’ access credentials at risk of being compromised,” the three organisations said.

“Consumers have no control over how their credentials and any other data or personal information accessed by the third party — such as account numbers and account statements — may be stored and used.”

Also, fraudsters could pose as third parties offering “instant-EFT” services on fake e-commerce sites to capture consumers’ access credentials for their bank’s internet banking websites.

“From there they could impersonate the consumer on their banking platform, making real-time payments to themselves, applying for a personal loan, increasing transaction limits and ultimately initiating payments to mule accounts.”

That’s not all. If you make use of instant-EFT products you could be in breach of your bank’s terms and conditions, which regulate internet banking, by providing their internet banking login credentials to a third-party.

“As a result, consumers are, knowingly or unknowingly, giving up their rights of recourse and lack any legal protection in the event of fraud and subsequent loss suffered by such consumers.”

In short, instant EFTs may be quick and easy, but they are potentially very high risk.

Hold on to that receipt

You don’t have to be super organised to put your receipts into a special drawer, shoebox or file — just know where to find your proof of purchase when you need it, because if you can’t, it can cost you a lot.

You have a legal right to return defective products within six months of purchase, for your choice of a refund, replacement or repair — provided you can produce proof of purchase.

Many retailers will voluntarily take back non-defective goods for an exchange or credit, but in most cases they will insist on that all-important little piece of paper first.

Charmaine wanted to return an item of clothing to a major retailer recently, with the original tags still attached, but this was refused because she no longer had her receipt. So now she’s stuck with a too-small piece of clothing.

She didn’t try it on before buying, because she is wary of using a public changeroom in the midst of a pandemic. “And with Covid, I sanitise everything that comes into my home, including my till slips,” she told me, “so the receipt for that garment had turned grey”.

About that: The international scientific community believes that 90 to 95% of transmission of the coronavirus is person-to-person. While virus particles have been reported to survive for hours or days on surfaces, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small.

At least take a photo of your receipt so you have proof of purchase when you need it.

What not to buy online: a puppy

Thea of KwaZulu-Natal wanted a puppy; and not just any puppy. She wanted a pug.

She found one for sale online two weeks ago, advertised by a woman who gave her name as Maria van Deh. Not her real name, of course, but nothing of what she — who was mostly likely a he — WhatsApped Thea about was real, starting with the little pug. “Maria” sent photos of the dog, having lifted them off the internet.

But for Thea and her family, the puppy was very real, and they paid R4,000 into Maria’s FNB account for her. The pup was to be flown to them by “delivery agent” Jet Park Logistics, the fraudster said.

Then, on the supposed day of delivery, Thea got the usual story: “This crate is not good enough; you need to hire a special crate for the puppy” — at a cost of R9,100, of which R9,000 would be refunded, she was told.

Like many before her, Thea paid up, because she was convinced the poor puppy would be stranded at the airport if she didn’t.

But when she was asked to pay another R15,000 — something to do with a breeder organisation — she realised she’d been scammed.

This scam has been running for years, and will no doubt continue for long as enough people want certain breeds of dog, and are willing to shop for them online, then buy them without seeing them or the breeding conditions.

Always be suspicious when engaging with an unknown entity selling goods online — assume it’s a scam unless and until your research reveals otherwise.

Never send your ID to a “puppy seller” — they will steal your identity in a heartbeat. In fact, many perpetrating the puppy scam do so using the identities of previous victims.

Here’s one of the many ways to sniff out a fraudster — ask them to do a video call so that you can see them and the “puppies” — or whatever they are selling, and all you’ll get are a whole lot of reasons why that can’t happen.

GET IN TOUCH: Wendy Knowler specialises in consumer journalism. You can reach her via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler