Published in Stuff BusinessDay, October 1, 2015
So you received an email from a Nigerian princess who told you the sorry tale of her father who was martyred for his religious beliefs. She desperately needed to get his millions out of the country before the corrupt government seized his estate. If she could use your bank account as a safe harbour for his money, she’d generously give you with a cut of her inheritance.
Out of the kindness of your heart, and perhaps the blameless desire to make a quick buck, you agreed to this plan. It’s an act of charity to a fellow human in need.
But there were a few snags along the road, and the princess needed some ready funds to smooth the way. So you made a payment or three to her account, knowing you’d be paid back handsomely in the end.
Eventually you work out this is a scam and stop the payments. What to do? Surely your bank will reimburse your losses under its fraud guarantee? Think again.
Any online scam is not necessarily the same as banking fraud.
Banks will generally see their customers right if they are victims of banking fraud and have not contributed to the fraud. They will look at what happened and offer to reimburse losses on a case by case basis. They may cover your losses if, for example, someone gets access to you credit card or online accounts by fraudulent means, without your knowledge, and uses that access to make unauthorised purchases or to transfer your money to another bank account.
It’s a different story if you have played a part in the fraud. In this case, you willingly sent money to the Nigerian princess. Even if it wanted to, your bank couldn’t stop you sending her money. It might well have asked you about the transaction, and cautioned you not to when you told the bank why you were sending money overseas, but ultimately the bank is there to do what you say. It’s your money.
That’s why it’s always important to be sure you know who you’re dealing with when transacting online.
Most of us will see the Nigerian princess coming. Regrettably that’s not the case with many scams. Even the most cautious of us can be taken in.
Scammers are good at what they do. They will often pretend to be banks, businesses or people in need of your assistance. They might also pretend to be people looking for love or friendship. They prey on trust and kindness.
When they approach you, often by email or phone, they may provide documents that appear to be legitimate. In the end, they will always ask for money or personal information such as passwords and PIN numbers. If you give them personal information, they can steal your identity and get access to your bank accounts.
If you have been scammed it’s always worth alerting your bank to see if they can assist. Once again any reimbursement of losses will be determined on a case by case basis.
There are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from banking fraud and general online scams.
Keep your information safe. Don’t hand over personal information. Never tell anyone your PINs or passwords. Your bank will never ask you for this information.
Monitor your account. Keep an eye on your transactions and if you see anything you haven’t authorised contact your bank immediately.
Protect access to your computer and mobile devices. If you’re not careful, criminals may be able to get hold of your personal information and bank accounts.
If you receive an email from anyone you don’t recognise, don’t open it. Email can be disguised to look legitimate. If you have any suspicions, contact the person or organisation it appears to have come from to check its authenticity.
And next time that Nigerian princess emails you, just delete it.