B’ec’ame I re­ally sus­pi­cious when I re­alised that they were us­ing a dif­fer­ent bank ac­count for the sec­ond pay­ment

CityPress - - Business -

It was only when Pa­tri­cia re­ceived a call from Wonga’s head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Priscilla Urquhart, that she re­alised she had been the un­wit­ting vic­tim of a phish­ing scam that has so far conned more than 200 peo­ple into part­ing with their money. Two weeks ago, Pa­tri­cia re­ceived an SMS from what she be­lieved to be short-term lender Wonga.com.

In re­sponse to the SMS, she emailed her de­tails and the amount she wanted to bor­row. She re­ceived an SMS con­firm­ing re­ceipt of the email and an ap­pli­ca­tion form was emailed di­rectly to her.

“It was very con­vinc­ing. It had a proper let­ter­head with direc­tor names, reg­is­tra­tion num­bers and even the FSB [Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Board] reg­is­tra­tion num­ber,” says Pa­tri­cia, who adds that she only be­came sus­pi­cious when the com­pany asked for her to pay an amount of R2 425 for “at­tor­ney fees” to se­cure the R20 000 loan.

“I work in the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try and I had a funny feel­ing about pay­ing the up­front fee be­cause I hadn’t heard of that be­fore, but then it made sense that it was for at­tor­ney fees,” says Pa­tri­cia, who adds that in one of the emails the com­pany ex­plained that they did not do or­di­nary bank loans but raised money from in­vestors.

Pa­tri­cia thought the ad­min­is­tra­tion fees could re­late to the work done to find in­vestors to fund loans.

Wonga.com’s high pro­file and ex­ten­sive ad­ver­tis­ing made Pa­tri­cia feel con­fi­dent that the loan was gen­uine.

Although a voice at the back of her mind was rais­ing con­cerns, she paid the money into an Absa ac­count and was told she would have the loan within 24 hours. Two days passed and she re­ceived an­other email, say­ing they re­quired an ad­di­tional R1 500.

“When I saw this, I phoned the num­ber on the ap­pli­ca­tion form im­me­di­ately and spoke to some­one called Roberts Scott and told him it was il­le­gal to charge an ad­di­tional fee. He said it was a re­quire­ment, but asked me to put my con­cern in writ­ing.”

De­spite email­ing her com­plaint, all Pa­tri­cia got in re­sponse were fur­ther emails, ur­gently ask­ing for the R1 500.

“I be­came re­ally sus­pi­cious when I re­alised they were us­ing a dif­fer­ent bank ac­count for the sec­ond pay­ment,” says Pa­tri­cia, who again phoned “Scott” and told him she wanted to cancel the ap­pli­ca­tion and have her money re­funded.

“He said I would be re­im­bursed, but that was the last time I heard from them.”

At this stage, Pa­tri­cia still be­lieved she was deal­ing with Wonga.com and lodged a com­plaint on web­site Hel­lopeter.com. Two hours later, Urquhart con­tacted her di­rectly and told her about the scam. Fraud­sters pos­ing as Wonga.com were con­ning peo­ple into pay­ing for nonex­is­tent loans. One vic­tim paid up to R24 000 to the syn­di­cate in the be­lief they were ap­ply­ing for a R2 mil­lion loan.

The scam has been go­ing on for sev­eral years, but Urquhart says there has been a strong resur­gence in re­cent months and a far broader base of in­di­vid­u­als have been tar­geted – Wonga is re­ceiv­ing about 300 calls a week from peo­ple who have re­ceived the SMS. Wonga is aware of at least 200 vic­tims, but that fig­ure

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