The cost of fraud on your pocket

By Angelique Ruzicka, editor,

There are few things that can make your blood turn stone cold. Seeing thousands of rands come off your current account for flights you never booked can do the trick. There they were: three transactions totalling R8155. I checked my wallet but my card was still there. The details must’ve been cloned or remembered and used. Panic!

To make matters worse, my cell phone messages were the last thing on my mind that afternoon and this played into the fraudsters’ hands. I had been charging my phone and my five month old had been rather niggly that afternoon so I hadn’t paid any attention to anything else.

As it was a Sunday, the banks were closed and the only option for me was to contact the ‘lost and stolen’ card line and the fraud department. I thought of trying to transfer all the funds to my savings account, but alas, the fraudulent transactions had already come off.

My bank’s ‘lost and stolen’ operator was helpful. He blocked my card and said he would get a new card sent to my local branch. I just had to follow up with the bank’s fraud department. I did so, several times but was only successful in reaching the helpline’s answering system. It claims that if you leave a message they will contact you. I waited till 11pm and went to bed.

I was able to reach the fraud department the next day but recovering my funds to date has been tricky. Through some detective work I found out which airline the tickets had been booked with. Unfortunately, the tickets had been booked for a flight that Sunday evening. So while I was running around reporting the transactions the happy fraudster (the airline gave me the name of the person who had booked the flight) was enjoying her commute from Johannesburg to Cape Town probably with snacks from the trolley at my expense.

The airline told me that one flight valued at R2641 had been received and they were happy to reverse this transaction. The larger amount for R5282 had been rejected by them and the fraud investigator said it was simply a case of the bank releasing the money.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple. My bank’s card authorization department said: “…it cannot be cancelled by the bank as it’s all up to the merchant to bank or cancel it.” Bank and airline were pointing the finger at each other with no explanation about where my money is. Instead of ping-ponging between the two I gave in and lodged a dispute, which unfortunately means I have to pay R300 (R150 per local voucher) to the bank for investigating the claim.  Had the fraudster decided to spend the money abroad I would’ve had to pay R200 per transaction.

Luckily I only need to dispute two amounts. Obviously I wasn’t going to dispute the amount the airline had refunded me but there’s an odd amount of R232 that came off as well, which I know I didn’t spend. I feel sorry for people who’ve had many fraudulent transactions come off  their account. At R150-R200 per dispute, it could end up being very costly or perhaps not even worth the hassle.

Upon lodging my dispute I was told that it may take up to ‘45 days to be resolved by our disputes department’. Really? Why does it take so long? How many South Africans can live without over R5, 000 for 45 days while the bank makes up its mind about a fraudulent transaction? Let’s be honest here, how much do they really have to do? I’ve done most of the legwork for them already.

Luckily I have savings to tide me over. If I didn’t, I’d be in hot water, what with regular debits coming off, food and nappies to pay for. With fraud so rife in South Africa and with most consumers struggling to make ends meet, surely this should be reviewed?

And what about the fraudster? Will the bank or the airline investigate the matter further? It’s hard to say. After all, the fraudster is probably long gone. I was told that the person who took the flight was in all likelihood an innocent too because fraudsters usually sell tickets to unsuspecting buyers on websites like Gumtree. But then I’d like this person to explain why they tried to buy another two flights with my card details?

So be careful if you are considering responding to such adverts – you could be buying tickets that were bought by fleecing someone else and when you get to the airport you may find that your ticket is no longer valid or worse, you may be in for some interrogation if the authorities clamp down early enough.

If I were a betting lady I would put money on the fraudsters getting away with it. Hell, they’ve probably already cloned or remembered the details of the next victim’s card. I believe more could be done to catch the criminals and, for starters, buying tickets using someone else’s card should be disallowed. But until the banks, airlines and police address this problem more ferociously, fraudsters will continue to enjoy these flights and whatever else they fancy.