If you're planning to shop online in the foreseeable future, here's how to avoid cyber scams


The current times of the coronavirus pandemic have encouraged not only increased spending (though it’s largely panic buying) but online shopping as well. As a result, it was only a matter of time until opportunists rear their heads. 

The primary shield against scammers is to arm yourself with information. The major shopping scam taking advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa has had the South African Reserve Bank dousing claims that the government will be seizing all banknotes and coins. 

Yes, this really happened. 

Read the full alert here from the SA Reserve Bank

Rest assured, if you’re going about your shopping, there’s no need to empty your bank account or hand the “contaminated” banknotes over to ‘government officials’ as some may have claimed. 

Banking crimes, email hacking, SIM swops and number porting, fake websites and bogus shipping notices are just some of the threats you will need to look out for.

Here's how to make sure you keep safe: 

Be wary of pop-up ads 

Anna Collard, Managing Director of cyber crime awareness company, Popcorn Training, advises you avoid clicking on pop-up ads and special offers because the links may take you to fake sites that often look a lot like the real thing. She suggests you practice the age-old rule of thumb: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Look out for fake shipping notices

Anna says fake shipping notices can also become more of a problem in peak shopping seasons because many people expect or send packages anyway so they are less likely to approach an email with an unexpected shipping notice with suspicion. 

“You end up clicking on the attachment or filling out the form and next thing you know, you’ve been phished or hacked. Always check with the person who supposedly sent the package before you do anything, that way you can be absolutely sure it isn’t a scam,” she adds.

READ MORE: 3 reasons to check your credit rating regularly

Have multiple email addresses

When it comes to email scams, South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) suggests you use different email addresses for different purposes. The centre advises that you use your original email address for personal or business communication as you would do usually and then use an alternative email address to communicate with your service provider(s) – then use yet another email address for registering for websites, newsletters, online shopping and other services. 

In addition to this, it is suggested you use different passwords for each account, passwords that are at least six characters long and are a combination of letters, numbers and capitals/lowercase letters.

READ MORE: SA fraud statistics confirm higher levels of crime - a guide to scams you should be aware of

“Fraudsters take advantage of digital technology and platforms to carry out their fraudulent activities. The theft of personal and confidential information by criminals, through various means, enables them to carry out their criminal activities on digital platforms” says SABRIC CEO, Kalyani Pillay.

Don’t click on links from unsolicited emails and SMSes

“Unfortunately, through social engineering and the use of malware/spyware, criminals gain access to their victims personal and confidential banking information. With social engineering, the victim is manipulated into believing that they are communicating with their bank or some reputable company and divulges the information required by the fraudster. Often they are asked to click on links in the communication which loads malware/spyware on the victim’s device,” said Kalyani.

READ MORE: Thinking of working abroad? Take these 4 steps to protect yourself from being scammed

The centre cautions against confirmatory emails from email addresses that are almost identical or that differ from the genuine email address by perhaps one letter that can be easily missed.

Check your cell phone connectivity

If you lose mobile connectivity under circumstances where you are usually connected, the centre advises to check whether you may have been the victim of an illegal SIM swop. If confirmed, notify your bank immediately.

Regularly verify whether details received from cell phone notifications are correct and according to the recent activity on your account. Contact your bank immediately should any details appear suspicious and report all log-on notifications that are unknown to you.

Kalyani warns: “Anyone can fall victim to bank-related crimes ... Criminals will strike wherever there are opportunities.”

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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