Internet Fraud – the bulldog was bull


Someone purchased a bulldog they saw advertised in CapeInfo’s Classifieds.  The advertised price was R800 – which rose to R3000, including transportation – and the advertised location was Pretoria – changing to Springbok upon further enquiry.

The young lady took what she regarded as necessary precautions.  She obtained the seller’s physical address, ID number and received a proforma invoice.  The she paid the full amount into the seller’s Absa bank account.  The dog never arrived and the seller ‘disappeared’.

This raises a few questions.  Firstly, who buys a pedigreed pet on the internet without proof of pedigree?  Secondly, who pays money for goods unseen?  The dog that arrived, if one arrived at all, could have been a chihuahua or a pavement special.  Would you buy a car without kicking the tyres first?

Online business dealings need common sense and a little extra caution.  Websites that offer online sales raise a red flag when an order is made from free email accounts where the owner cannot be verified – gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc.  Websites follow good business practice by asking the person they’re dealing with to provide a contact at a bank who can confirm that they do in fact exist and have an account at the bank.

Prepaid cellphones exacerbate the matter because there is no record of ownership.  You never know who is on the other side of the cellphone.  Compulsory presentation of an ID document when buying a prepaid SIM card was mooted, but never implemented.

But then story became even muddier when CapeInfo was asked to assist.

If you phone Absa’s fraud line, there is a recorded message telling you how serious Absa is about combatting crime, but that one needs to contact one’s domicile branch.  So we did, informing them of the circumstances, asking for advice and whether the bank’s client was known to the bank.

We were referred to another branch and told that the information requested could only be provided if the bank is subpoened.  Fair enough. Or is it? Surely the question, “is the individual is known to the bank” could have been answered?

Now the buyer’s boyfriend – who works for a finance house – enters the picture.  He informs us that the bank account in question does not comply with SA’s FICA regulations – where domicilium has to be proved.  He also copies us correspondence from Absa – no subpoena needed.

Absa’s specialist investigator in their foresic services department emails the branch manager where the alleged fraudster’s account is held:
Suspected fraudulent account
Please refer to the e-Mail below and consider the urgent closure of the mentioned Absa account.”

So we write to the investigator, asking if Absa is pursuing matters in it’s quoted aim of combatting crime.  The reply is:
“FS will not investigate as there was no fraud committed against Absa.
“What I’ve done was to inform the domicile branch to close the miscreant’s account with immediate effect.
“You will have to file charges with the SAPS and/or take civil action to recover your money.”

A “miscreant” – now that’s quick justice!

So it seems you don’t need a subpoena to get an inside track on someone else’s account.  It seems that Absa believes that closing an account exonerates themselves further.  It seems that, if fraud was not commited against Absa, their statment on combatting crime is pure lip service.

It also seems – if the boyfriend’s facts are correct – that Absa broke the law by allowing an account to operate that does not comply with FICA and, as such, are co-responsible for the fraud.

These statements and views were conveyed to Absa’s Communication Officer in Cape Town. We subsequently received a call from Absa’s head office saying the matter was being investigated and that we would have a response by Wednesday aferternoon or Thursday morning latest. We asked the caller to send us an email with his contact details. Neither the response nor the contact details were forthcoming.

It’s a sad fact that while banks are quick to penalise their customers when they make an error, they have a hundred smokescreens when they are at fault.

Earlier this year, Absa lost a cheque from Google after it had been deposited by CapeInfo.  We received a letter saying “We regret to inform you that the following cheque was lost in transit to the drawee bank. Since we were acting as an agent for the collection of the cheque, it was necessary to debit your account.”  Not responsible!

A few years ago, my bank card stopped working at ATM’s. The bank said it was my fault; they do not make mistakes. After three days of non-returned calls and visits to the bank, only when I raised my voice at the enquiries counter did they check their records. They had issued a new card in my name to someone else. The photocopy of the other person’s ID lay in their records. Oh, sorry!

Banks are quick to penalise clients when the client is in error. It’s time clients started billing banks for their errors.


3 responses to “Internet Fraud – the bulldog was bull”

  1. Who will take Absa to task for perhaps breaking the FICA law. Mr Citizen is so scrutinized and made to feel a criminal if the required info is not presented. so how they get away with it??

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