As our lives are thrust further into the digital matrix, the line between reality and the virtual has become increasingly blurred. In these times of crisis, where many South Africans are under severe pressure, it might seem all too easy to fall for untrustworthy advice or get-rich-quick scams when approached online.

This is evident with the latest global crisis, which has become fertile ground for online fraud. Last year, a TransUnion survey revealed that 38% of South African consumers have been a target of digital fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 5% having paid the price for their lack of awareness.

It has never been more important to understand your rights when looking for financial products or advice online.

The ploys of these online fraudsters are becoming incredibly difficult to detect, and so are their agendas. It’s no longer simple financial fraud – this new wave of online scamming now encompasses identity theft, voter manipulation, misuse of personal data - and everything in between.

According to the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), "Cyber criminals want to obtain your identity number, your bank account details, your PIN (personal identity number), passwords and/or any other particulars that will give them access to further information on you, on your bank account(s), access to your current or potential earnings, to that of your family if possible, to the grant or pension money you receive, to any other information or details on you which would tell them more about you."

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Don’t get personal

You wouldn’t trust a stranger with your secrets, so don’t do it online - which broadly includes over the phone and email as well - with your personal details.

If you ever have any doubts, it is a good idea to phone the entity in question to confirm the specific details that they need, and why. You would do well to remember that your banks will never ask for your ATM pin, card security number or your passwords.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is

Scammers have been around since there was money to be taken. The charm of the online snake oil salesman is no different to that of any other scammer.

They can be charming, persuasive, convincing, and con you out of your life savings in a matter of an hour. The age-old wisdom remains true to this day – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no shortcut to wealth, especially in these difficult economic times.

Don’t be swayed otherwise.

Everyone is a target

Ultimately, Horn says that nobody is exempt. “We are all potential victims and should not think that we are not the targets of these attacks. With the amount of data, cybercriminals can obtain from a quick google search, you’ll be surprised at how easily you can be duped.”

She advises that we all need to be wary and arm ourselves with the knowledge and awareness that will protect us on our journey to success. For more information on online scams in South Africa, visit the Financial Intelligence Centre. There are plenty of resources and statistics to help you prepare to defend yourself, your finances, and your family.

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