How to spot a 419 scam

Internet scams seem to be getting the best of us - including some of South Africa's most successful businesspeople. So here's how to not pull a Sexwale.

FILE:  Reserve Bank and National Treasury say Tokyo Sexwale's claims point to a scam. Picture: © maximkostenko/123rf.com.

JOHANNESBURG — During an interview on eNCA over the weekend, businessperson and former Gauteng Premier Tokyo Sexwale claimed that billions meant for a Heritage Fund had been stolen.

He said the fund had offered billions of rands to assist with efforts to fight the impact of COVID-19, as well as the debt of university students.

"This fund is there, but in the process of making sure it's brought into the economy, we have found some resistance, and when we checked the resistance, we found that part of this money has been stolen."

Sexwale said that the matter was urgently raised with Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni and his predecessor, as well as the ANC top six and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

READ: Reserve Bank: Tokyo Sexwale's claims of donor fund theft point to a common scam

WHAT FUNDS?

A joint statement by the Reserve Bank and National Treasury on Monday said that Sexwale's claims of alleged billions that had been deposited at the bank pointed to a common scam.

"Over the years, National Treasury and the SARB have received many such requests for, or promises, of billions (and now trillions) of rands or dollars, and from experience regard these as simply scams. Any claim that such funds are meant for deserving causes such as COVID-19 relief, social grants or grants for free education are simply empty promises, to secure the interest of the potential victim.

"National Treasury and the SARB have previously received correspondence from Mr Sexwale and many others that alleges that billions of rands have been stolen from a fund that has been referred to as the ‘White Spiritual Boy Trust’ and which was set up by a foreign donor.

"It is further alleged that there are trillions of dollars in the said fund and that, inter alia, a certain Mr Goodwin Erin Webb was its mandated representative in South Africa. On investigation, the SARB can confirm that it had no record of the existence of the said fund and it had advised Mr Sexwale in writing that, given the SARB’s experience and knowledge of this and other similar matters, it could only conclude that the alleged fund was a scam. It should be noted that Mr Sexwale is not the first prominent person acting on behalf of a Mr Webb or an unknown donor, for such funds, and such requests can be traced to many years before 2016."

HOW DO SCAMS WORK?

According to Nedbank, an advance fee or 419 scam is a form of fraud where an individual is promised a lot of money, goods or a job, but first, they have to pay a fee upfront.

Scammers usually use the internet, beginning with an e-mail trying to persuade the recipient to advance money to the sender and promising a large financial payoff.

They usually have a number of reasons as to why they need help. Some claim their funds are trapped in central banks due to political unrest, others say that an inheritance is hard to access because of government restrictions or taxes.

R1. 35 trillion,

The scammers would ask the victim to pay fees and taxes or give bank account details to help them transfer the money.

The fees usually start off as small amounts, but the scammer will keep asking for money and the victim will never receive the large “reward” promised.

HOW TO DODGE THE BULLET

1) If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. In this case, South Africa's main budget revenue was projected to be R1. 35 trillion. That's the total of what we have in the country to use. Trillions of rands in an account sounds highly unlikely.

2)The scam email may emphasise confidentiality and “risk-free” transactions.

3) Unknown sources of money and unrealistic value of funds are presented. Some of the banks listed in the letter are not commercial banks, such as Teba bank and the South African Reserve Bank.

4) The letter often, but not always, has grammatical errors.

5) Never share your bank details or reply to an email requesting such details.

6) Research the company or person so that you know who you are dealing with.

READ MORE: Treasury, SARB reject Sexwale's money heist claims; say he was victim of scam

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