How many times can you win the UK lottery without even entering?
How many distant relatives (who you’ve never heard of) have left you the sole beneficiary of their massive estate?
How many former finance minister’s sons or daughters have contacted you, asking for help to move money or gold out of their country?
Sometimes your phone goes ahead and wins a competition without you. Well done smartphone!
Heck, sometimes Elon Musk is giving away cryptocurrency and wants your help to hide the profits from the IRS. You never realized he even knew who you were, amazing!
Our email and sms in-boxes are relentlessly full of horrible scams from unscrupulous crooks who simply want to con you out of your hard earned money.
Covid-19 has not slowed these scammers down, they are as active now as ever, perhaps even more so. There are even specific scams that target people who are in debt review and can be very convincing.
What are some common scams to watch out for, and how can you protect yourself from being taken to the cleaners?
419– THE ORIGINAL INTERNET SCAM
The “419 Scam” or “Nigerian Prince” scam, is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You may think this scam is fairly new, but in its infancy, it was carried out via faxes and then letters. The invention of email has really helped these scam artists extend their reach globally.
How it works:
A mysterious person claims to have a way for you to get lots of money, all you need to do is pay a small fee upfront to get access to those funds.
For example, a foreign prince wants to send you gold bars via the postal service, or through their “lawyers” but a small release fee is needed to facilitate some government paperwork. They ask if you can please pay this fee (or part of it) into an account they give you and then the deal can go ahead.
After the target pays the fee, the conman either immediately ghosts them, or create excuses for delays and try to get you to pay a little more before disappearing.
The FBI often refer to these scams by the number ‘419’ since it is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.
James Vietch the comedian has become famous over the years for answering these types of messages and messing around with the conman on the other side of the scam.
He leads them on for days or weeks, even months with ridiculous comments, requests or even promises wasting their time so they cannot go after vulnerable people.
Have a laugh at their expense here:
I WILL DO AN EFT
Selling things via Gumtree, OLX or other public platforms is super convenient and can help you raise some much-needed cash when your ends don’t meet.
A common scam is to contact you from “far away”, and ask you to send the sale item to them via the post. The person sends proof of payment and then waits for you to send the item.
More brazen crooks might even show up in person after convincing you that they have made the bank payment.
How it works:
The person makes a payment that reflects on your online banking (you may even call the bank and check) and then later reverse the payment, or they made the payment in such a way that it bounces back to them.
They then end up with the item and you end up with nothing.
You may often receive emails that look like they are from your bank asking you to sign in using your login and password to confirm some information.
When you type in those details, criminals use that information to try to get access to your accounts.
The banks have worked really hard to prevent these scams, and these days banking apps ask you to confirm things with your fingerprint or via one-time passwords. Even so, with access to only basic information about you, scammers can try to get access to your accounts.
Since the banks have made it harder for scammers to gain access to your accounts without one-time pins, scammers have had to change their tactics. They now try to convince you to give them your OTP while they try to make withdrawals.
How it Works:
You receive a call from a “bank employee” (scammer) who tells you they are from the bank and maybe even asks if you are the account holder and mentions some details like your address or the account number.
Impressed that they have some of this info you begin to trust them. They may even ask you some security questions to harvest more information from you. Wow, these people are serious about your safety (or so it seems).
They then tell you that someone is performing suspicious transactions on your account. Oh no, what must I do? They tell you that they are going to send you some One Time Pins or passcodes to stop the transactions.
Then your phone starts to get OTPs they are busy making transfers or purchases on your account. They ask you to tell them the code you just received so that they can stop the payments being made. In the meantime they are actually using those OTPs to complete the transaction themselves, with your
A big part of this scam is to pressure you and make you feel the urgency of stopping such payments. They do not give you time to think or time to hang up and call the bank directly (which is what you should actually do).
DEBT REVIEW SCAMS
Some scams target people who are in debt review.
The scammers know a little about the process, and may even have access to some information about your debt review, such as who your Debt Counsellor is, or how much you pay towards your debt each month.
What are some of the most common scams?
NEW ACCOUNT DETAILS
This is actually a fairly common scam in many industries and involves someone telling you that the PDA banking details have changed, and asking you to make a payment into the new account.
How it Works:
Someone from your “Debt Counsellors office” (the scammer) calls and says that they have good news for you, your payment amount has been reduced. What good news!!! This is the bait to draw you in. Who wouldn’t want to pay less? Then they tell you that all you now need to do is pay the reduced amount into a different account number (for one reason or another).
It is important to note that the PDAs have not changed their bank details for years and years, and this is unlikely to happen. If someone tells you this, they are trying to scam you. What you should immediately do, is pick up the phone and call your Debt Counsellor directly (the person you actually know by voice and perhaps face to face) and ask if any such change has actually happened.
Call their Bluff:
Since debt review is very paperwork heavy they should be able to send you the restructured payment plan with the reduced payment amount, and perhaps even the documents from the credit providers who are now happy to get paid less each month (these don’t exist obviously).
Debt Counsellors also get targeted by these types of scams. For example, some scammers contacted many Debt Counsellors and told them the National Credit Regulator (NCR) had changed bank details, and they should pay their annual renewal fees into the new account. It was, of course, the scammer’s own account and not that of the NCR. Same scam but a slightly different target group.
YOU CAN GET A NEW LOAN
A common scam is to target people in debt review who are not actually serious about getting out of debt.
The scammer gets in touch and promises the consumer that they can get access to a new loan even though they are in debt review. They appeal to the desperation or greed of the person in debt review, very similar to the classic 419 scam.
How it Works:
Once again, the idea is that the scammer promises you could get access to a loan, but only if you pay a small upfront fee. They say that their business is not worried about things like “black listing” (a nonsense expression) or “debt review”. They promise not to do any credit bureau checks before giving out the credit (even though the law requires it).
YOU CAN GET OUT OF DEBT REVIEW
A growing scam is to tell people they can magically leave debt review before they have paid off all their debt. This is not legally possible.*
Being in debt review is saving you thousands in fees and interest, but some people find it hard to stick to the tight budgets and to never miss payments. They long for the days when they used to owe people lots and being chased by collections agents 24/7 (we don’t know why).
They miss having access to money they had not earned and sometimes find themselves in need of more money to pay for something urgent. Instead of turning to their Debt Counsellor for advice, they begin to search the internet for a new loan and fall into the hands of scammers.
How it Works:
You go online and Google “how to leave debt review” (for one reason or another) instead of talking to your Debt Counsellor about it. You find a Facebook page or website with promises of getting you out of debt review. It seems easy and they promise quick results.
They ask for a fee upfront to get you out of debt review. They advise you not to pay your debt review this month and rather pay them their fees.
Much like a classic 419 scam they then either try to do a little bit of work and get you to pay them again or they simply disappear.
*Except if the only debt left is your bond. In such a case, the Debt Counsellor is the best person to help you leave debt review safely so that you do not lose your home. If a consumer has never received a court order saying they are over-indebted then a court may also decide that the consumer now has enough money each month that they don’t need debt review. In such a case, once again, your Debt Counsellor is the best person to help you sort this out via the courts but it takes some time.
WHY ARE SOME SCAMS SO TOTALLY RIDICULOUS AND OBVIOUSLY A SCAM?
Sometimes scams seem so obvious. Why do scammers send poorly written emails with promises of ridiculous large amounts of money?
They do this because they are targeting people who do not see the danger, those who overlook the obvious warning signs and still go ahead. These gullible people are their targets, not the ones who see the danger.
So they continue to use this shotgun approach, sending out thousands of emails or sms, and see who takes the bait.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SCAMS
Rather than following links to dodgy websites you find in suspicious emails, go directly to your banks website. Type the link into the address bar on your computer or phone. If the offer is real, you will find what you need on your banks legitimate site.
If someone calls you and says they are calling on behalf of the banks fraud department, thank them for their call, hang up and call the bank yourself. Never give anyone an OTP, the banks all assure us that their staff will never ever ask you for these details (or your account passwords).
If you are in debt review, then the number one way to avoid scams is to regularly communicate directly with your Debt Counsellor. If approached by strangers with offers that seem too good to be true, reach out directly to your DC and discuss the offer with them. Don’t be desperate to take on more debt or be in a hurry to get out of the process for no good reason. After all, you want less debt and not more.
If you are struggling to make ends meet each month, or are faced with an emergency, then contact your Debt Counsellor for the best advice. Also, please remember the Payment Distribution Agencies do not change their bank details.
AVOID THE SCAMDEMIC
Sadly even now, scammers are out there and they want to rip you off. They will promise you the world, as long as you pay upfront.
Never let anyone trick you into paying upfront for a service you have not yet received.
While there is no 100% way to be safe, you can avoid the most common scams out there with a little bit of caution and a dash of common sense.