Millions lost in cyber scams

Police issue warning to Bay residents following spike in cases since May

An estimated R12- million has been lost by Nelson Mandela Bay residents and businesses to cyber criminals since May in online dating and deposit scams.

The police commercial crime investigation branch has warned residents and businesses in the Eastern Cape, and particularly Nelson Mandela Bay, to be extremely cautious when paying over money.

The elite crime-fighting team said dating websites and e-mails or text messages were used to extort funds varying from R150 000 to R500 000.

The alert comes after a surge in criminal cases in the Bay and surrounding areas since May.

While police have declined to give specific figures, they have confirmed that the total runs into several million rands.

Since May, about R12-million has been scammed from residents in the Bay area alone.

An estimated 60 criminal cases are under investigation by specialist cyber crime investigators – with about three cases reported each week.

Authorities have identified online dating scams as one of the latest cyber crimes doing the rounds.

In the deposit scam, people and business owners have been conned into depositing large sums into fraudulent bank accounts – usually by swindlers posing as a state entity or department.

Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said that with the online dating scam, the cyber criminals played on a vulnerable victim’s emotions to extort money and personal details.

Usually the con artist developed a close relationship with the victim via online chat and video platforms for a period of two or more months before asking for a financial loan.

During the initial dating period, photographs and copies of a passport could be provided and even Skype conversations could take place, Janse van Rensburg said.

“Each syndicate member has a role to play,” she said.

“Thus the person you are communicating with is not always the person reflected on the photograph or on Skype. “The passport or any other documents supplied are false.”

“The bank account opened for the requested money has usually been opened by means of fraudulent documents, making it difficult to trace.”

Usually at some point, the swindler promises to send a gift or even to pay a visit to the victim in South Africa.

“The victim will then be asked to pay larger sums of money [for] customs, clearance, insurance and so on.”

The deposit scams usually involved false invoices and e-mails claiming money was owed to the South African Revenue Service or a business.

“This also includes text messages and e-mails saying people have won money. When contacted [the swindlers] claim to need deposits to secure the winnings,” she said.

The money is then deposited into the bank account, which is fraudulently opened.

In August, two Nigerian men and two South African women were arrested in Cape Town for opening bank accounts they were using to receive money from online dating victims.

South African Banking Risk Information Centre chief executive Kalyani Pillay said then that when banks detected an intended victim was about to make a large payment and contacted the person, “these victims often insist on proceeding as they do not accept they are being defrauded.

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