Illegal collection attempts, bogus winnings and useless medical aid covers

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

13 May 2022 - 16:39
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Scammers are always finding a way to swindle you out of your hard-earned cash. Stock photo.
Scammers are always finding a way to swindle you out of your hard-earned cash. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Ian Allenden

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

The directory scam: no end in sight

I’ve been exposing the “Telkom directory” scam for more than five years, but still I hear from their victims weekly.

This week it was an elderly Mpumalanga nun, who is being harassed relentlessly by a debt collecting company calling itself ITC Summons.

Their most recent demand was for R15,413, and the 85-year-old nun, who signed the form, having been told she was updating their Telkom directory at no cost, was understandably beside herself with worry.

The small print on that form, committing the convent to a massive annual subscription, was far too small for her to read.

I’ve told her to ignore the demands, disengage and not pay a cent — to her enormous relief.

In February the council for debt collectors found Viveka Naiker, the 25-year-old owner of ITC Summons, and her two younger employees guilty of a total of 71 charges, including threatening and intimidating alleged debtors, inflating outstanding balances and making blatant misrepresentations.

They have failed to pay their R557,500 fine, with the result that their registration is in the process of being withdrawn.

The council urges those who were caught by the “free directory update” scam to “ignore any and all of ITC Summons’ illegal collection attempts”.

And I’m urging small business owners to warn the people who answer their phones to abruptly end calls from people engaging them about their directory listings.

An avalanche of scam calls

Alex e-mailed me to relate how he almost got scammed, and asking that I warn others of the modus operandi.

“A guy called, claiming to be with the Gift of the Givers, and said I’d won R10,000 in a Vodacom rewards draw, then asked me to check my SMSs to see if I'd received a reference number. I checked, and I had, and then he talked me through how to claim the money using a Standard Bank PIN. 

“He then told me to buy R150 airtime to activate the PIN and said he would call back for the voucher number. When he called back two hours later to continue to ‘activate the winnings', I told him I had called the Gift of the Givers and they knew nothing of this rewards competition.

“He then said he would get the manager to call me right back to sort the confusion out. He never did. I’m not sure how he was planning to get money out of me, beyond the R150 airtime, but tell people to watch out.”

Happy to. Based on what Alex told me, it appears to be a variation of the airtime scam.

With so many data breaches happening — including the Dis-Chem one this week, our personal information — names, cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses, at least — are “out there” and there is no shortage of fraudsters wanting to try their luck with them.

Please be on extremely high alert for unsolicited calls from people spinning you a story that requires you to give them key numbers — PINs, account numbers, passwords or one-time passwords. Only fraudsters ask you for those.

'Like selling a car without wheels'

A renowned surgeon shared his frustration with the shortcomings of medical cover with me this week.

“Patients are being sold medical aid plans that require significant co-payments if they get admitted for surgery,” he said.

“While I understand that cheaper options may have many exclusions, I do believe it is immoral to sell someone a policy like this and not find out whether they can afford a co-payment should the need arise. It’s akin to selling a person a car without wheels and not telling them they won’t be able to drive it if they can’t afford to buy the wheels when they need to drive.”

Another example is older folk being sold policies that don’t cover joint replacements, which is one of the most common procedures needed in old age.

Wow. That’s spectacularly perverse — and yet another example of why it’s so dangerous to assume anything when dealing with corporates. 

Read every word of the small print, and if you find something that could cause you a world of financial pain down the line, switch to a company which is slightly less reprehensible or upgrade to a better plan, if you can.

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

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