Online scams trick businesses out of money

Several conveyancing attorneys and new homeowners in Nelson Mandela Bay have been duped out of a total of R8.4-million by con artists.

The online scam includes the use of false bank accounts, fraudulent identities and fake e-mail addresses to siphon off the money. Since January last year, R8.4-million has been stolen in 19 separate cases reported by several conveyancing firms across the city.

News of the scam comes just days after police warned that several businesses in the city had been conned out of R22-million since December in a string of online scams.

But in the latest scam, the Hawks’ banking and cyber crime unit warned that lawyers had been targeted by online criminals.

The cases were opened by the attorneys days later, after the fund payments failed to reflect in the clients’ bank accounts.

The most lost in one transaction was more than R3-million, with nine of the cases reported between August and October.

Generally, the amounts stolen vary between R300 000 and R800 000 per transaction.

Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the scam specifically targeted conveyancing firms. She said it was a countrywide scam.

“The firm receives instructions, purportedly from a client, stating that their bank details have been changed.

“This client is usually awaiting payment [for] a property sold,” she said.

“The instruction is sent by the perpetrators via e-mail but the address used by these criminals is almost identical to that of the attorney’s client.”

Only upon further scrutiny of the e-mail address can a slight difference be seen. Janse van Rensburg said the bank account used to deposit the money was usually fraudulently opened for this transfer.

“After the transaction is complete, the large sum of money is withdrawn and the person disappears. “The account then becomes inactive,” she said.

The Hawks revealed this week that a similar syndicate was targeting businesses in the city, with R13.5-million lost in 11 separate cases last month alone.

In one instance, a Port Elizabeth businessman was conned out of R3.8-million after the fraudsters set up a “ghost company”, with a fake website, bank account, clearance certificates, physical address and e-mail accounts.

Janse van Rensburg said it was unclear if the scam artists were linked to a single syndicate or operating separately.

“Only after we track, trace and arrest the culprits will we be able to establish if it is one group,” she said.

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