South Africa

Watch-outs of the week: treat every e-mailed invoice with suspicion

Watch-outs of the week: treat every e-mailed invoice with suspicion

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Beware the e-mailed invoice

Whenever you are sent an invoice via e-mail, please assume that a fraudster intercepted the original e-mail, sent by the company which is supplying you with goods or services, and is planning to get you to transfer money into his or her account instead.

That is until you have phoned the company — by looking up the number online, not phoning the number on the maybe fake e-mail — and verified the banking details.

The invoice scam artists initially targeted conveyancing attorney firms, given that very large sums of money are regularly deposited into and paid out of their trust accounts when properties are bought and sold.

But now they’re targeting all companies that regularly e-mail invoices to their customers for payment.

They hack that e-mail account and start monitoring their e-mail exchanges. When they spot e-mails with invoices attached, they insert their bank account details and send the altered invoice from an e-mail address almost identical to the real one.

And that’s how many people end up paying the fraudster instead of the legitimate company and because most companies give their clients some payment leeway, it can take days or even weeks for that to come to light.

I would have fallen for this scam this past week had I not been on extremely high alert for it — interviewing people who’ve lost tens of thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of rand, to e-mail intercepting fraudsters.

Understandably, this form of fraud leads to strained business relationships as neither party feels that they are responsible for the fraud. The banks generally don’t help the victim because details about the bank account into which the money was paid are protected by the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).

The only way to get that information is to obtain a subpoena, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, ordering the bank to release the information on the account. But this can be a fruitless exercise because the fraudster typically opens the account with a fraudulent ID and proof of address or pays a “front” to open an account for them. If you never pay an invoice without first checking the bank details, you can’t get caught.

You know that line about the best 4x4 being a rented car? Worst advice ever.

If you’re planning to hire a car any time soon, do yourself a favour and check out the websites of the companies you’re considering, and look for their terms and conditions.

In some cases it could take you a while to locate them and when you do, you’ll probably wish you hadn’t. Reading the small print of a car rental contract is a lot like reading the package insert of any medicine you’re about to take — it makes you so afraid, you don’t want to chance it at all.

It’s advisable to pay extra for the so-called super waiver, rather than the standard waiver, because with the latter, if the rental car is damaged or stolen, while the amount the car rental company expects you to pay is limited, it’s still a fairly high amount which could prove financially crippling. The super waiver usually limits your exposure to under R5,000, but there are many situations in which no waiver applies and you’re left to foot the bill, in full, for the car’s repair or replacement.

Such as: driving on a gravel road, letting someone not listed on the rental agreement drive the car, hitting a vehicle from behind, hitting a pothole, water damage, damage to the undercarriage of the car and not reporting the accident or loss to the company in time — one company gives you just three hours to do so.

Gross negligence, damage to upholstery and carpets; damage or loss sustained “as a result of civil unrest, riot or political unrest” are also common exclusions, requiring full payment. For those who insure their own cars, so they aren’t that exposed when disaster strikes, that’s a huge risk.

Some things you can avoid — the gravel roads, gross negligence and messing up the upholstery, for example; others not so much. But do read all those Ts and Cs before signing the papers so that you know exactly what the risks are.

Are your affairs in order?

Does your family know where to find your will and details about your medical aid, bank accounts and investments when you die?

It’s not nice to think about, but, says Cape Town attorney Trudie Broekmann, “the pandemic has reminded us that uncertainty is part of human life. The best way in which we can look after our loved ones is to plan for difficult circumstances. This includes:

• Sending a few trusted family members a list of your passwords, the details of your bank accounts and investments, medical aid, pension, where to find duplicates of your keys, and your instructions in case of an emergency.

• Drafting or updating your will and nominating guardians for your children who are still under 18. (If you die without having made a will, a family member must report your death to the master’s office, and they will help the family choose someone who will gather your assets, pay your debts and then divide up what is left over — your “estate” — between your family members, according to rules that decide who gets what if you die without a will, known legally as “intestate succession”.)

• Preparing a “living will” dealing with the risk of being on life support systems indefinitely and informing your next of kin of your desires in that regard.

“Don’t make the classic error of leaving the only copy of your important documents in your safe — they need to be accessible to a few trusted confidantes,” Broekmann says.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: [email protected] or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

TimesLIVE