Business Maverick


Cyber scams and cash robberies — ’tis the season to be jolly alert

Cyber scams and cash robberies — ’tis the season to be jolly alert
Illustrative image: (Photos: iStock | Rawpixel)

Make sure that the season of giving doesn’t become one of loss as a result of cyber scams or being robbed of cash.

While technology has certainly made shopping easier with online platforms and readily available delivery services, this festive season is likely to be littered with just as many cybercriminals as festive bargains.

Check Point Research says there was a 13% increase in the number of malicious files related to orders and deliveries during October this year than in the same month last year.

One of the more concerning patterns Check Point Research has noted involves the spoofing of renowned brands such as Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Ray-Ban. Hackers craft enticing emails promising steep discounts on these luxury products, with the email addresses manipulated to mimic those of the authentic brands. However, a closer look reveals that the email origins have no connection to the actual luxury companies.

If you are lured to click on the links within these emails, you are taken to websites meticulously designed to replicate the sites of the targeted brands. These fraudulent sites then peddle luxury goods at unbelievably discounted prices, and often prompt you to input your bank account details.

According to Check Point Research, emails using subjects related to orders and shipments are quite common, and the victim is then led to download the malicious file.

December is usually when many stokvels pay out members and when the lucky few get annual bonuses. Vanesha Palani, executive: financial management at Nedbank, says you need to be extra careful with your cash during this period. She has the following tips:

Make electronic payments. If you are the leader of a stokvel, try to pay out as little money as possible in the form of cash. Rather arrange for members to get their money by direct electronic fund transfers into their bank accounts. This minimises the risk of having to withdraw large sums of cash and transport it to the place where members get paid.

Be cautious at ATMs. If you have to withdraw money from an ATM, avoid machines located in high-risk areas and don’t make your withdrawals at night. If possible, withdraw your money from an ATM in a shopping centre or close to security. Scan your surroundings for suspicious-looking individuals, have your card ready when you get to the ATM and never let anyone distract you during your transaction.

Don’t withdraw all your money at once. If you have to withdraw a large sum, do it in small amounts over a few days instead of all at once. That way, you don’t have to carry a lot of cash, and if someone does steal your money, you’ll still have more in the bank.

Plan your shopping. If you intend to buy expensive items, take someone along with you for safety. Also, it’s a good idea not to do one big grocery shop. “Rather do a number of smaller shops, so that you don’t have too many shopping bags to carry. That way, you can keep your hands free to look after your valuable items and your money.

Keep your plans private. Nobody needs to know about your stokvel money or what you plan to do with it. Don’t tell people that you are receiving a payment, and don’t broadcast any plans on social media.

Privesan Naidoo, executive: trading products at Nedbank, cautions that online shopping can also leave you vulnerable to theft. 

“While the convenience of online shopping is undeniable, it can lull us into a false sense of security,” he says, “but we should be doubly vigilant when shopping online to ensure that the season of giving doesn’t become a season of loss owing to cyber scams.”

Naidoo says you should do some “digital housekeeping” before you go online shopping. This includes safety precautions such as ensuring your connection is secure by having strong encryption and Wi-Fi passwords for your home network. 

“Update your internet browser to the latest version. Then, make sure that the passwords for any of your online accounts, especially digital banking sites, are also strong. Mix up letters, numbers and symbols to make it tough for hackers to get in. Don’t use public or shared Wi-Fi when shopping or transacting,” he says.

He also advocates transaction alerts, which will notify you when a transaction occurs and, in many cases, you will have to confirm the transaction before the money is taken from your account.

Naidoo notes that although many online retailers offer the option of storing your credit card information on their e-commerce platforms, you should think twice before doing this. 

“While storing your card for convenience is tempting, it’s safer to opt out,” he says, “because there’s always the possibility of hackers accessing data on the site, and if your card details are held there, it increases the risk of them using your information for fraudulent purposes down the line.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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