Invoice scammers have upped their game, navigating Uber cancellation fees

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s ‘Watch-outs of the week’

03 September 2021 - 15:42
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The mass transition to working from home has played into the hands of criminals, warns a cyber security expert. Stock photo.
The mass transition to working from home has played into the hands of criminals, warns a cyber security expert. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Welcomia

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

Spread the word to avoid the invoice scam

For the past four years or so, I’ve been warning consumers about the intercepted invoice scam. Scammers hack into the email accounts of companies which email invoices to their clients for goods or services supplied, or pay their suppliers on receipt of their
e-mailed invoices, and start monitoring their email exchanges.

When they spot emails with invoices attached, they insert their bank account details and send the altered invoice from an email address almost identical to the real one. That’s how many customers and companies end up paying the fraudster instead of the legitimate company, and because most companies give their clients some payment leeway, it can take days or even weeks for that to come to light, by which time the money is long gone from the fraudster’s account. Understandably, this form of fraud leads to strained business relationships as neither party feels they are responsible for the fraud.

With so many companies wise to the scam now, and warning their customers about it, the criminals have upped their game.

John McLoughlin, CEO of Cape Town-based cyber security company J2, said the recent mass transition to work-from-home had played into the criminals’ hands.

“They are taking a much more personal approach to targeting their prey,” he said.

They phone the company, identify themselves as the supplier’s finance contact person and begin by making friendly small talk about the pandemic. Having tracked the email exchanges between the company and the real supplier, they go as far as matching the voice, age and accent to the person with the help of LinkedIn searches.

“We were called to investigate a case where the finance person in question was an older Afrikaans person, and the fraudster who impersonated her had a voice to match,” McLaughlin said.

The cyber attacker informs the finance team they’re changing banks and enquires about the process to do so. Then they follow up with an email confirming the details. The email address is virtually identical to the authentic one, and phone numbers are spoofed.

In some cases they use messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Signal to confirm the bank details have been sent and will call back a short while later to confirm receipt of the details and answer any questions or concerns.

“This adaptation has been created to get around the usual verification processes in place at a business,” McLaughlin said. “The attacker essentially does their own verification with the company’s finance team, increasing their success rate exponentially.”

What to do? “Spread the word far and wide, for starters, and then get cyber protected,” McLauglin said. “Implementing DMARC (domain-based message authentication, reporting and conformance) standards can protect a company from being impersonated.”

How to avoid paying an Uber cancellation fee

Have you ever had an Uber driver cancel on you? I have, a few times. Once I needed a ride from a Gautrain station in Johannesburg to a nearby restaurant when three or four drivers accepted the trip and then cancelled. I finally realised they were afraid of the metered taxi drivers who’d parked in a long line outside the station. It happened a few other times when I’d hailed an Uber for a very short ride.

In a HelloPeter complaint posted this week, “Mbali L” summed up the experience of many: “Your [Uber] drivers keep accepting trips but delay by not cancelling when they realise they don’t want to take the trip.

My last Uber driver made me wait for more than 40 minutes and only decided to cancel when I told him I was going to complain
'Mbali L' reporting on HelloPeter

“[My last driver] made me wait for more than 40 minutes and only decided to cancel when I told him I was going to complain.”

If the rider cancels they pay a penalty and not a small one, in most cases: R55 in the case of an UberX, for example.

When taking this up with Uber SA, I discovered the e-hailing service recently updated its cancellation fee policy. It’s now based on the distance travelled and time spent by driver-partners while driving to a requested pickup point.

“The fee will only apply if a ride is cancelled three minutes after it is requested,” I was told.

“Request a ride when you’re ready to go to avoid a cancellation fee.”

Uber said it has systems in place to review excess cancellations on the part of drivers. “If Uber finds this has been breached, this could result in a driver losing access to the Uber platform.

“Riders can cancel a trip at any time through the Uber app, but may be charged a cancellation fee if they cancel after they are matched with their driver.

“Cancellation fees pay driver-partners for the time and effort they spend getting to your location.”

The new cancellation fees range, for example, from R10 to R45 for UberGo, R15 to R55 for UberX, and R30 to R90 for UberBlack.

But you wont be charged a cancellation fee if:

  • your driver took much longer than expected to arrive; or
  • Uber detects your driver isn’t making much progress to your pickup location.

If you believe you were charged a cancellation fee in error, let Uber know via the “Help” section in your Uber app.

Kulula ticket credit: use or lose

When Comair went into business rescue last May, those with “unflown” British Airways and kulula tickets for flights from March 14 to November 30 were given the option becoming a creditor or retaining the value of their tickets in what Comair called a “travel bank account”. But all that credit has to be used on new tickets for journeys departing before the end of November this year.

“This cannot be extended as creditors and other interested and affected parties have accepted the business rescue plan,” a Comair spokesperson told me.

That’s not sitting well with affected passengers who intended to travel in December, particularly as the airline only took to the skies this week after choosing to suspend operations for two months in response to travel restrictions to Gauteng.

“Our customers have had the opportunity to use the value of their tickets since December and can still do so from September 1 until 30 November,” Comair told me.

Clearly the company wants to maximise sales for the peak festive season. Having to honour all that banked ticket value would get in the way of that.

Caroline Fieldgate is furious because when she tried to book Johannesburg to Durban flights on kulula for December, airline call centre agents didn’t tell her initially that her “credit” wasn’t valid for December flights.

“I only found out that was the case when I queried a mistake with my return flight date, by which time I had missed out on kulula’s ticket sale.”

If you had bought tickets to fly on kulula or BA between June 28 and August 31 this year when the airline was not operating, your ticket will remain valid until August 31 2022, and no change of booking fee or fare difference will be charged.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail:; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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