Beware: Top 10 Internet scams

This article has been republished from The Star newspaper, Johannesburg. Ramon Thomas will be speaking on Channel Islam on Sunday, 18 March 2012 at 10h30 discussing solutions based on 19 years of experience on the Internet.

The more advanced the technology, it seems, the more imaginative the con. Unless you’re a recluse with no internet, cellphone, bank card or car, you will have encountered a fraudster intent on scamming you. The more advanced the technology, it seems, the more imaginative the con.

Top 10 Internet ScamsLike most South Africans, I receive an attempted scam via e-mail almost daily, most often purporting to come from my bank, prompting me to do something online that would result in my account being cleaned out. And recently, I had my credit card “skimmed” at a popular Joburg restaurant, and within 24 hours R4 000 was withdrawn in cash from my account.

But arguably the most unconscionable scams are perpetrated on people who are lonely or naively generous, like the women who fall for “419 heartbreakers”, confidence tricksters who romance them online and then con them out of money.

Hawks spokesman MacIntosh Polela says cybercrime costs SA millions every year, even though the scamsters have to work hard to get a “hit”. “Only a few will respond and among those who respond, very few of them will pay the money,” he says.

But someone will always take the bait, unfortunately, which is why scamming continues to be a widespread scourge.

The only defence against the scam is awareness. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. And never respond to an e-mail, SMS or phone call requiring you to submit personal information, even if it’s in the form of a threat to your account being suspended due to some third-party interference.

Never participate in any “sale of goods”, “survey”, “competition”, “lottery” or “inheritance” scheme requiring any personal information over the phone or the internet.

If you’re selling something, confirm payment with your bank before releasing the goods, and if you don’t remember entering a competition or buying a lottery ticket, you haven’t won anything.

The top 10 scams to look out for:

1. The 419 heartbreaker scam

The 419 scams have been around since the dawn of the internet, the oldest one speaking of an inheritance worth billions that the sender is due, but your bank account details are needed to deposit the funds, in return for which you’ll get a percentage. Another oldie is the e-mail from Western Union telling of a “deposit” into your account and requiring your personal information.

But the 419 scam is always evolving. The latest is the “419 heartbreaker” scam. In a recent episode of M-Net’s Carte Blanche, Monique Roeloffse nearly got scammed by after meeting “Josef Werner” on an online dating site. After romancing her for a few weeks, he came up with a story that he’d been in a submarine accident and had lost all his money. Inevitably he asked her to send a cash advance, but fortunately, she smelled a rat before it was too late.

The 419 heartbreaker’s correspondence looks authentic and oozes charm, but the reality is that these are being generated by criminal syndicates, usually made up of people of different nationalities, says Polela.

2. Phishing

These are the e-mails purportedly from your bank requesting various online actions, all to gain access to your bank accounts.

A young woman who got caught, Phindile, says she got an e-mail from her bank prompting her to verify her details. What she didn’t realise was that the link provided was to a fraudulent website.

“The website page that I clicked on to looked exactly the same as my bank’s site, and I even received an RVN number (a one-time PIN) on my cellphone, so I thought it was all legitimate. Next thing I knew an amount of R15 300 went out of my account. The money came out in two large sums, R9 000 and R4 000,” she says.

In all these attacks, it’s your banking information that the fraudsters are after. Without the account holder’s banking details and passwords, the fraud would simply not be possible. Don’t go there, ever.

3. Smishing

SA has one of the highest cellphone penetration rates in the world, so it’s a wide open field for the SMS version of phishing. Many people have received an SMS requesting account verification or, occasionally, an alarmist message requesting you to make a call rather than go to a false link.

The person on the other end of the line is a fraudster adept at eliciting critical information, including your PIN code. Remember, as banks keep telling us, you will never be asked for your PIN over the phone.

4. False payment confirmations

Lyl, a complainant on HelloPeter says she advertised furniture on Gumtree that was bought by someone called Max. “He said he’d deposited money into my account, and I received an SMS confirming this, but when I checked with the bank, no money had been cleared,” she says.

The hoax payment confirmation by SMS usually appears to come from your bank. Always verify that the money is indeed in your account before releasing the goods.

5. Unethical app downloads charges

Criminals and unethical developers are now using premium-rated SMSes to defraud people via the mobile applications they download. At the end of 2011, Google removed 22 applications from the Android cellphone market because they conned people into agreeing to premium SMS charges.

“This is not strictly fraud but certainly unethical in that the charges are hidden by misleading terms and conditions and the application’s sign-up process doesn’t give the customers any other option other than to agree to the premium charges,” says Pieter Streicher, MD of

The first line of defence against any SMS fraud is to diligently check your phone bills for any unusual amounts being deducted. And only download the more popular apps.

“You also need to check the permissions that you grant the application on installation: you should be sceptical if a basic game, for instance, requires access to address books and the internet, or needs the ability to send SMSes,” says Streicher.

6. SIM swops

One of the outcomes of a phishing scam could be a SIM swop. The fraudster already has your cellphone number and can get enough additional information to request a SIM swop from your network operator. They then have access to both your bank account details and the SIM card needed to complete transactions. Fortunately, the networks have tightened up on their SIM swop processes and this type of fraud is decreasing, says Streicher. “However, it is still worth knowing about, and if your cellphone ever stops working for no reason, you should assume the worst and contact your bank and network operator immediately.”

7. Credit card skimming

Card skimming is a global problem and usually takes place when fraudsters capture card data on devices similar to those used for legitimate point-of-sale or ATM transactions. The devices fit snugly over the card slot on an ATM and can even include a camera to record the PIN. But the main point of compromise is when you hand your card to someone to do a transaction.

As I was personally caught out, I know how easy it is if you’re not concentrating. In my case, the waiter took my card away briefly and when he returned, I entered my PIN without covering with my other hand. Never let your card out of your sight and when entering your PIN, cover the PIN pad.

8. Unscrupulous subscription services

Cellphone users need to be aware that unscrupulous Wasps (wireless application service providers – the companies that typically provide much of the mobile content that people buy) can bill any SA cell number and can even detect and record your cellphone number if you browse their websites using your cellphone.

Unlike the desktop internet where credit card numbers need to be entered and orders need to be confirmed, on a mobile device all that is needed to bill you is your cellphone number. A notorious one is Mobthumbs, which sends you an SMS saying you’re now subscribed to it, at a cost of R20 a day.

The Wasp Association advises sending “Stop” in reply to a message received. The service should in most cases be stopped, or alternatively result in an error message which would contain details regarding how to properly unsubscribe from the service.

And again, you need to check your phone bills looking for charges you didn’t authorise or ongoing charges for subscription services that you didn’t realise weren’t one-offs.

9. Counterfeit merchandise

If you’re buying anything expensive, beware of fakes. It’s big business, and a lot of it’s happening online. Just recently, police arrested four men who tried to con a businessman into buying fake gems, which were ostensibly worth R250 000. The businessman set up a sting operation and the men were arrested. The “gems” were nothing more than four pieces of glass covered in the melted silicone tube of a TV set.

10. Microsoft scam

These scamsters call you on your cellphone or home phone claiming to be a Microsoft employee. They tell you they have found out you have a problem with your computer (who hasn’t?). Then they ask you all sorts of questions and prompt you to do all sorts of things with your computer “to sort out the problem”. Their aim is to get into your computer remotely, and to access all your private info.

Alternatively, you’ll be told you’ve won the “Microsoft Lottery”, and that Microsoft “requires credit card information to validate your copy of Windows”. Another one is an unsolicited e-mails from “Microsoft” requesting a “security update”. Don’t go there.

written by Helen Grange, source: The Star


Material is Magical movie for the new Millennium

Material Movie starring Riaad Moosa & produced Ronnie AptekerMaterial is in a class of its own because it fusses so many different genres successfully. Oscar winning “Tsotsi” gave the world a peak into South African thug-life life on the streets of Johannesburg. Material is strong for very different reasons.

The characters are quirky, sometimes funny and almost magical in their qualities. Ronnie Apteker, the producer has put together an excellent support team including a brilliant scriptwriter. Dialogue flows so naturally between the cast it is easy to taken on this journey. After a string of films under his belt, this may be his first box office hit. Material also has strong international potential in the Middle East and Asia where the Muslim family story may resonate even stronger.

After reading the build up to this film on Twitter over the last 12-months, this film had to be great not just good. This movie was more than expected and hits emotional triggers from beginning to end. The cinematography is breezy and captures the soul of one of the oldest suburbs in Johannesburg, Fordsburg succinctly. Local residents refer it to “little Pakistan” or “little India” because of the high concentration of Muslims from India or Pakistan who live here.

Moviegoers get real glimpses of the struggle in a family bound by tradition and terrors of the legacy of Apartheid. Fathers and boys have a special connection. This film is at times deeply spiritual in its quest for reconciliation between family members, father and son, and brothers.

Look out for the stand-up comedy routines because they lift you up when you least expect it. Movies like this can help change the world. This movie is a family movie, a comedy, a drama and a coming of age story all rolled into one. Ronnie Apteker is close to his magnum opus as a producer.


TED Ed launches with Two Questions

Yesterday TED Conferences announced the launch of “TED Ed”. This is new series of talks focussed on education. As regular readers no this blog knows, our focus at the Ramon Thomas Training Corporation is directly related to education. Over the last 5 years we have spoken at over 200 schools and conferences across South Africa. We are passionate about teaching teacher, training teenagers, promoting possibilities and expanding entrepreneurial thinking.

The premise of the video below is based on unanswerable questions. We don’t agree with this entirely. Dan Sullivan says, a person is mature once they realise knowing what questions to ask is more important than having all the answers. So maybe TED is asking the wrong questions to start with. Just on the first two questions, there are thousands of scientists who can answer #1. We are also aware of a dozen or more experts who’ve written books about alien contact. This group in particular may fall outside what is considered mainstream science or academics.

As South Africa seeks to improve it’s education system from the tangled web weave, we full endorse the TED Ed program and look for to sharing ideas from this platform with our loyal readers. Watching TED videos makes it clear that the world is flat. You can enhance your own understanding of the world and the universe we live in with this wonderfully presenter lectures from the world’s leading technology, entertainment and designers.

Anyway they posted this announcement on their blog:

This morning, we’re thrilled to introduce TED-Ed — a resource of short lessons designed to spark curiosity and promote further learning in and out of classrooms. Watch our introductory video above … read Chris Anderson’s personal note … and watch for more news and video throughout the day.

  1. Question: How many universes are there?
  2. Question: Why can’t we see evidence of alien life?

Read the story behind the TED-Ed launch on Chris Anderson’s personal blog


Should sms while driving be banned?

Texting while driving Road RageA ban on texting while driving comes into force Thursday in Pennsylvania, but remains legal in some other US states. Do you agree with a ban?

Over 96% of people voting of a online poll on the Guardian UK’s website agreed texting must be banned completely when driving.

My own experience is almost hypocritical as I have sent many an sms while driving on roads in Johannesburg or CapeTown. Sometimes it was emergencies, sometimes it was laziness, sometimes it was due to bad planning or simply boredom. And yet I know this is not safe behaviour while driving.

Oprah has managed to collect over 430,0000 pledges via her website for turning cars into a no phone zone. She frequently asked celebrity guests to take the pledges before her show ended. I pledge to make my car a No Phone Zone. Beginning right now, I will do my part to help put an end to distracted driving by committing to drive as responsibly as I can.

It’d be difficult to enforce, but most definitely yes, I agree with the ban. Same for talking on cell-phones while driving. I can’t count the number of times I’ve almost been run into because some twit was yakking away or texting on their cell phone. I think anyone who gets stopped for it should have the offending cell phone rammed up their bottom on the spot.”

“Texting WHILE DRIVING (ie the car is actually moving) is unquestionably a crazy thing to do and definitely should be banned. But texting while stopped at a red light, or while pulled over on the side of the road is often necessary and very useful. While I hope the police throw the book at anyone texting while their car is in motion, I fear that people texting in a safe manner (when the car is not moving) will be caught in the police net if thrown too widely. I know from experience that the police are more interested in locking people up than following the spirit of the law, and unless anti-texting laws are written very carefully, I can EASILY imagine cops arresting people for texting while parked, or for glancing at the GPS map/locator app on their phone.”





Chip Conley: Measuring what makes life worthwhile

Recently my guest lecturing slot at Stenden SA, the leading hospitality management or hotel school in South Africa, was confirmed. In preparation for a week of lectures I started doing research on my favourite resources, and found this gem. His reference to Abraham Maslow and the application in business alone is worth watching this video for.

When the dotcom bubble burst, hotelier Chip Conley went in search of a business model based on happiness. In an old friendship with an employee and in the wisdom of a Buddhist king, he learned that success comes from what you count. Chip Conley creates joyful hotels, where he hopes his employees, customers and investors alike can realize their full potential. His books share that philosophy with the wider world.