JOHANNESBURG – A marketing and sales team purporting to represent Old Mutual Financial Services has re-emerged and is offering fraudulent loans to the public at 5% interest in an effort to get hold of personal details and solicit upfront payment for the release of loans.
This type of phishing scam has become popular over the last few years, with fraudsters using the name of well-known, credible organisations to gain legitimacy. Moneyweb’s name was previously illegally linked to a similar loan scheme offered by “Moneyweb Private Banking South Africa”.
In November last year, the Financial Services Board (FSB) issued a warning against a scam called Skeme Finance Group which requested an “enclosure fee” from individuals before a loan could be granted. To pacify individuals getting wind of the con, the scheme issued a fraudulent letter using the FSB’s logo and a picture of the deputy registrar of financial services providers, Caroline da Silva.
Consumers are lured with promises of very low interest rates – typically no more than 5% per annum. Interest rates on personal loans at most banks generally range from 13% to 28% per annum. This makes the offer “too good to be true”, often the first warning sign that something fishy is afoot.
But shutting down these operators can be a long and cumbersome process and individual vigilance remains the best form of protection.
The Old Mutual impersonator, who calls herself “Melissa Green”, was offering loans to the public late last year, but despite Old Mutual issuing an alert and reporting the case to the police, “Green” was sending emails with a loan offer as recently as Monday.
A woman named Mary-Ann reported “Green” to the fraudalert website in January and although she did not lose any money (Green allegedly asked for R5 750 to cover attorney and insurance costs), she did share her personal details.
“I am afraid that they can do something illegal with it,” she wrote on the website.
Green’s number is still in service. When Moneyweb phoned the number on Wednesday, she repeated the emailed offer, highlighting the “special” interest rate and added that the offer would expire by the 15th. Scammers often put a clock on offers to put pressure on individuals to commit.
Ursula van der Westhuizen, spokesperson for Old Mutual, says they opened a case at the Pinelands Police Station in October 2016.
“We also immediately report this kind of activity to the police and follow a thorough process to get email accounts closed, phone numbers blacklisted and websites shut down as soon as we become aware of it.”
They have seen a number of cell numbers relating to the case since then as the scammers keep changing the details.
Blacklisting a phone number takes some time. Mobile service providers will not suspend cell phone numbers without a Section 205 subpoena. Therefore the police need to apply for a Section 205 subpoena via the magistrate’s court to instruct the mobile service providers to suspend the numbers and provide information about the numbers.
Old Mutual says it is unclear how many people have been affected, as consumers who fall victim to the scam are often too embarrassed to come forward. Last year about 10 cases were reported per month.
Lebogang Selibi, media relations offer at the National Credit Regulator, says they were not aware of the scam, but will take a closer look into the matter.
Selibi says consumers should only borrow from registered credit providers, verify the advert with the company and take note of the contents.
“A legitimate company as big as Old Mutual will not give out a cell number on an advert.”
According to the NCR, the general mode of operation of fake credit providers is:
- Posing as legitimate credit providers and sending consumers soliciting emails or smses, offering cheap loans;
- The application process is done via email or facsimile;
- Consumers are furnished with loan application forms to complete;
- These application forms appear to be legitimate as they have NCR registration numbers;
- The fake credit providers use the registration details of credit providers who are lawfully registered with the NCR to enhance their credibility;
- Shortly after the application, consumers receive loan approval letters via email and are requested to pay advance fees. These fees are generally defined as clearance or administration fees. Some consumers unfortunately fall into this trap and pay the fees for the release of the loan amounts applied for;
- Once consumers pay the advance fees requested, the fake credit providers ask for payment of further/additional fees;
- In the end consumers do not receive the loan amounts applied for and the fake credit provider disappears without a trace.
According to the NCR, consumers may surf the net to identify credit providers who offer credit to “blacklisted” persons and who use the phrase “no credit checks required”, “free credit” or “cheap credit”. It is illegal to use these words when advertising credit. In the earlier call, Green highlighted that the individual could still get a loan, even if she was “blacklisted”.
The National Credit Act does not allow credit providers to request upfront payment for the release of personal loans. Credit providers are also required to conduct affordability assessments and credit checks before granting loans.