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Protect your loved ones from scams

Feb 12, 2021

Some of your relatives and loved ones may be getting on in years and may not be as careful with their finances and cards as they were before. Angelique Ruzicka has some suggestions for things you can do to help protect them from scams.

Protect your loved ones from scams Sadly, there are many scams aimed at older people, because they’re easier to dupe. When you realise that your loved ones are being scammed, you may want to give them stern warnings or threaten power of attorney to take over control of their finances.

But this can just result in them pushing you away, not being open about future scams or worse – a nasty fallout.

Here are seven approaches you can take that aren’t as heavy handed as asking your older loved ones to relinquish control of their finances.

Make sure they’re not targeted by telemarketers

Telemarketers are not necessarily criminals, but if your grandparent is vulnerable, they may be talked into buying or subscribing to something they don’t need. Registering them on the national opt-out database, which is managed by the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA), can ensure that they’re not approached by direct marketing companies.

Install the Truecaller app onto their phone

This app effectively acts as a global telephone directory so your loved ones will always know who’s calling them and can block any numbers they want. Truecaller can either be downloaded from a phone’s app store or through their website.

Set transaction limits

Thieves typically use stolen cards to shop online. One way to curb their spending is to set limits on the size of online transactions. Bevan Smith, head of risk at Visa, adds: “You’d have to check which banks are doing this – but they allow you to say, ‘I do not do any online shopping’ and you are able to restrict that online shopping functionality. So, if anyone stole your card and tried to use it that way then they wouldn’t be able to do that. You can also restrict cross-border transactions.”

Persuade your relative to ditch the cards

This may be a difficult thing to do as your relative may feel familiarity with using bank cards. But cards are easily cloned, lost and stolen. Smith points out: “Cash has no trail once it’s out of the ATM. That’s why card swapping and shoulder surfing is one of the biggest types of fraud in South Africa.”

Get them to embrace technology

These days we can pay with our phones instead of using cards. The cost of a purchasing a smartphone can be a barrier but if your relative can afford a Samsung phone, they can make use of Samsung Pay. Apple Pay is set to launch in South Africa soon too if they’re willing to hold out for that.

Phones offer another layer of protection too. Smith says: “The great thing about biometrics, voice recognition or face ID is it’s easy to use. The security level is higher, and the convenience level is higher. You don’t even think about it.”

There’s also Garmin Pay, which is also a contact-less payment feature on pay-enabled Garmin watches.

Try and convince your relative to use a digital card with a dynamic CVV (the secret number at the back of your card) if their bank offers it. Smith explains: “Recently, FNB have launched a card where the CVV numbers are dynamic and change at a regular interval. So even if the fraudster managed to copy down details, they wouldn’t know the right CVV.”

Help them to report a theft swiftly

Teaching your relative what to do should their card be stolen, could help them act quickly and prevent cash from being taken from their account. Make sure they have downloaded their banking apps and show them how they can block or freeze their accounts from their phone. Make sure they have their bank’s fraud lines stored on their phone and in their home. Create a checklist that will help them react quickly in an emergency.

Get them to check their transaction alerts

If they’re not already set up to get transaction alerts on their phone, get them hooked up to this service. Most banks offer it. Also get them to take advantage of additional safety features and alerts offered by most banks. Giuseppe Virgillito, FNB head of digital banking, says: “We encourage customers who prefer to still use online banking (rather than the banking app) to also ensure that they have a linked app to perform online financial transaction authorisation (Smart OTP) as this method is preferable to SMS approval, as your app notifications will not be vulnerable to a SIM swop.”

Make sure they change their passwords regularly

Even if their accounts haven’t been compromised get your relative to regularly change PINs or passwords. If this becomes too difficult for them to remember, then having a gentle talk with them about a trusted family member or friend taking control of their finances may be an option.

What you need to know about power of attorney

Matlhodi Leteane, head of operations at FNB Fiduciary, says: “A power of attorney is relatively easy to get. It is advisable that the power of attorney is drafted by an expert so to ensure that it contains the correct legal clauses and that the powers granted in the power of attorney are not wide and are specific.”

Power of attorney is only valid for as long as the principal (the person giving the power of attorney) has legal capacity, i.e., does not suffer from mental illness. Leteane explains: “In the event that they suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, the power of attorney loses its effect and the bank will not be able to rely on the power of attorney any longer. In that instance, the family will have to apply to court for the person to be placed under curatorship. Unfortunately, this is usually a lengthy court process.”

This article first appeared in City Press.


  1. Please can you investigate “Coffee Gems”. I suspect it’s a pyramid scheme. You get money by recruiting & very high interest promised


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Maya Fisher-French author of Money Questions Answered

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