Debit order fraud: Special Assignment exposes scam firms

Adiel Ismail

Cape Town - Unscrupulous companies operating in the call centre space might just be helping themselves to your hard earned cash without you even noticing.

But viewers are in for a shock on Sunday evening when Special Assignment exposes some of the companies involved in the debit order scam deducting anything from R47 to R349 from unsuspecting consumers.

SABC specialist producer Lindile Mpanza told Fin24 that Durban seems to be the hot spot for dubious companies operating in the call centre space. "From all the people I interviewed in my story - this includes affected consumers and some experts on the issue - nobody really knew why Durban is at the epicentre of this type of fraud."
Walter Volker, CEO of Payments Association of SA (PASA) and author of Essential Guide to Payments, told Fin24 these are mainly small call centre operators, who phone consumers up with promises of all kinds of products, but with the sole aim to obtain banking details.

"They normally don't meet all the criteria of a legitimate voice mandate as required by the PASA clearing rules."

One such company involved in alleged unauthorised debit orders is Hemisphere Lift which is owned by SGK Investments, according to Special Assignment who tracked down the directors.

The company, which claims to be a direct marketing company, has been deducting money from the bank account of Noah Nyatlo, who has unsuccessfully tried to get his money back for over a year.

“I was calling them daily to find out what the issue is - that I need my money back. And they were very rude," recounts a frustrated Nyatlo.

Like Nyatlo, thousands of South Africans entrust their banks with safe-guarding their money, however, not everyone check their bank statements to keep track of where their money is going.

"Scrutinise your bank statements," cautioned Mpanza. "Don’t just ignore small amounts or assume that a small amount reflecting on your account is a bank charge."

Underlining the importance of checking one's bank statements, Ina Wilson, vice chairperson of the SA National Consumers Union (Sancu) urged consumers to become much more vigilant in checking their bank statements meticulously. "Even if there is a minute amount deducted from your account, query it and put a stop to it."

She told Fin24 the rights of consumers should be protected. "It is rather appalling that businesses and scammers have the audacity to invade consumers’ privacy by fraudulently using their bank accounts to withdraw money without the consent or knowledge of the customer," said Wilken while questioning where these call centre firms obtain consumer information.
Mpanza told Fin24 viewers will be shocked by the business of the illegal sale of sensitive consumer data and how easy confidential consumer information is attainable on the streets.

"Your name, surname, contact details and ID number are available at a cost of R3, and it’s sold in batches of about 500 or more – these are called units or leads. Data with additional banking details is more expensive and costs R5 per unit."

These lists are invariably stolen, bought and copied from legitimate companies, Volker told Fin24. He advised consumers to protect their banking credentials, to approach their bank to dispute any unauthorised debit orders and to open a case at the police where fraud is involved.

Special Assignment airs on SABC 3 at 20:30 on Sunday.