SA scams that will make you do a double take

2018-01-18 14:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Cape Town - We all think we are too smart to be duped by a scam artist, but sometimes the scammers are smarter.

They especially increase their efforts when it comes to festive seasons and the start of a new year, hoping a relaxed person on holiday is more susceptible to their charms. According to PCI Security Standards Council General Manager Stephen Orfei, South Africa’s blossoming entrepreneurial landscape has unfortunately seen it become "one of the top ten markets targeted for cyber security weakness".

SEE: Holiday Scams: Top tips for a fraud and worry-free break

From recruitment to travel bookings to social media fakes, these are some of the scams all South African travellers should be wary of.

And remember to always trust your gut.

Airline Cabin Crew Recruitment Scam

This scam likes to pop up at the start of each year, when matriculants and graduates start the hunt for jobs and training programme. The allure of being paid to travel is quite appealing, and unfortunately scammers have exploited it fully.

FlySafair and SAA have become aware of emails and social media posts inviting people to apply for cabin crew trainingship and internships and have warned people against giving out their personal details and making payments for 'fees' relating to admin, accommodation or other made-up costs. 

Even airports like Cape Town International have been hit by job scams, with fake advertisements asking for uniform and registration fees.

SEE: Scam alert: FlySafair warns of fraudulent training email

How to spot a fake:

Firstly, always check the official website of the airline to see if the listing is posted there, and check that the email address is sent from the correct domain. '@mailbox.co.za' is normally the biggest red flag according to SAA. 

Whenever a potential job email ask for payment at any point in the process, it's usually the biggest sign that it's a scam. You can also double check all the details by calling the airline to verify if the listing is legitimate. You should also notify them if you spot a scam email using their name, and if you've already made payment to a scammer you need to contact your nearest police station immediately.

Travel Booking Fraud

Travel agents and travellers alike can easily get duped into paying deposits for bookings into the wrong account, via email or other means. The risk especially increases when you're travelling to a country you don't know, and become dependent on travel agents and other tourist services to organise your holiday.

In one incident, a travel agent fell victim to a scam group while making a booking for clients in the DRC. She was making payment to the hotel when she received an email saying that the hotel's banking details had changed. After making the payment it became clear that it never went to the hotel, and luckily the funds was able to be diverted.

Cyber-crime syndicates not only send fake emails, but they can also hack into people's banking and credit card information, set up fake bookings and even travel agency's own employees can compromise a system. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) requires all travel agents that distribute flight tickets to comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).

There has also been intentional 'bust-outs' from travel companies like Flight Junction, where they sell cash flight tickets and then become insolvent allowing them to not pay the airlines. In the Flight Junction case, R7 million was defrauded from the industry.

SEE: R400k hotel payment scam: Risks of travel fraud increasing - expert

How to spot a fake:

If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is. Always check the reputability of a travel agent, especially if they are advertising ridiculous travel deals, before committing your money. A quick search for reviews is normally a good indication of people's experiences with them. In South Africa, you can also check with the Association of Southern African Travel Agents to see if they're registered.

If your supplier or hotel says that they’ve had a change in banking details, confirm by telephone that this is the case, and when replying to emails always check the email address by deleting it and typing the one you've been using so far again. Scammers normally only change one detail on the fake address hoping you won't notice.

When making online payments, if credit card payments are allowed on the website, it means they are PCI DSS compliant (and thus IATA compliant), but if the website redirects you to a third party site (like Pay Pal) to make payment it means it's not PCI compliant and thus not IATA accredited.

Travel insurance is also important for when travel agencies go bankrupt, and sometimes they even do this on purpose like Flight Junction, leaving you without a backup.

ALSO SEE: Festive Season scamming: R7m Durban travel agency fraud appears to be 'intentional bust-out'

Social Media Impersonation of SANParks and Ministers

Fake accounts and email addressese using ministers names have also been used to solicit money and information, specifically the ministers of Home Affairs and Tourism. Tokozile Xasa and Ayanda Dlodlo's identities were used last year in a series of scams pertaining to 'million rand funds' becoming available to members of the public.

SEE: DHA warns of social media crime syndicates, fixes 'technical glitch'

Even with raising funds for good causes comes with a warning tag. South African National Parks (SANParks) warns that there has been a rapid increase of groups on social media platforms impersonating the national parks under its management, a cause of great concern for the organisation. 

They claim to have links with SANParks and have gained momentum, putting SANParks's image and its patrons at risk. The practice has also seen establishments of accounts acting as travel agents, people creating mobile apps, publishers of literature, marketing apparel, domain names, crowdfunding agents and third party emergency contact numbers that mislead the public, some of which are for commercial purposes.

ALSO SEE: SANParks warns of social media scams, copyright infringement

How to spot a fake: 

With social media, always check how long the person has been active, and what they're previous posts look like. Try and notify the targeted departments and people to inform them of any suspected scams.

Although SANParks accepts donations and fundraising, it is important to note that fundraising can only be done officially through the SANParks website and the Honorary Rangers. You can check if SANParks' official social media accounts also endorse the account claiming to conduct business on their behalf.

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