Evergreen Content, ConsumerTalk with Wendy Knowler

Invoice email scam targeting local businesses (and top precautions to take)

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler has warned business owners about a scam in which invoices to their clients are intercepted and bank accounts changed.

Also read: Beware of scammers posing as Telkom

The scammers get the email addresses of companies which routinely email invoices to their customers for payment, Knowler explains.

They then hack that email account, intercept a invoice-containing email to the client, change the bank details to their bank account.

Scammers then create an email address almost identical to the genuine address, and send it on the client, who unwittingly pays the fraudster and not the company they owe the money to.

Read more: Rental scammers target would-be tenants with legit-looking online ads

Specialist banking group Investec recently issued a warning to its clients about the intercepted invoice scam, saying it leads to strained business relationships.

The intercepted invoice scam is causing absolute havoc between companies and their clients.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Knowler says smallish companies with admin email addresses and non-secure passwords are easy targets.

Banks often have their hands tied and cannot help the victim because the bank account holder is protected by the the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).

The only way to obtain any information about the beneficiary account holder is to obtain a subpoena, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, ordering the bank to release the information on the account.

Even so, Knowler says this can be a fruitless exercise because the fraudster typically opens the account with a fraudulent ID and proof of address.

Here are some tips on how businesses can protect themselves:

  • get a professional company to set up and configure your router
  • let current and new clients know that your banking details will never change
  • advise clients to phone and double-check the details before paying
  • consider leaving your banking details off invoices and instead ask clients to call you for that info

Here are some tips on how customers can protect themselves:

  • don’t set up beneficiary details until you verify the account details.
  • call the company on an independently sourced contact number, not one off the potentially compromised invoice

According to Knowler, conveyancing attorneys have been heavily targeted in this scam.

She shares a case in which Cape Town-based conveyancing firm, Botha & Venter Attorneys, was scammed in September last year. They deposited a client's R420 000 payout into a fraudsters account.

Take a listen to the advice during the ConsumerTalk feature:

Got a consumer case you need help resolving?

Email: consumer@knowler.co.za, put Cape Talk in the subject line, followed by the issue e.g. cellphone contract dispute.


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