Phishing threats escalate

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Phishing attempts are on the increase and will escalate as the Soccer World Cup draws closer, says big four bank Absa.

Yesterday, the bank experienced what Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, calls a “double whammy”. In addition to the usual scam e-mail asking people to click on a link and provide their details, another e-mail was doing the rounds offering people a refund on bank charges.

Goldstuck says this is a new move by the fraudsters, and such an e-mail - offering a financial incentive - has not previously affected the banking sector.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has, however, been the target of such scammers. The mail, purporting to be from SARS, tells people they have received a tax refund, and provides a link, at which point people's details are captured. This then leads to identity theft.

“The real danger of this type of phishing is that it will become more sophisticated as it goes along,” notes Goldstuck. He expects incentive e-mails, such as the one sent to people claiming to be from Absa, to escalate.

On the up

Christo Vrey, GM of Absa group digital channels, says the bank has seen an extreme acceleration in phishing mails over the past six months. He says this will increase in the run up to the games. “We have been warned in SA, since the middle of last year, that this will happen.”

Vrey says there is a shift in the types of mails that are being sent out, and scammers are becoming more sophisticated.

The bank does get asked to intervene when people fall victim to these scams, and does do so as far as possible. This includes freezing people's accounts and trying to block money transfers.

However, Vrey does not yet have information about how many people fell victim to this week's refund e-mail. He says the call centre received queries from people as to the validity of the mail, which indicates an increased awareness of phishing.

Growing target

About 10% of the bank's 11 million customers bank online, and about three million of SA's banking population also bank online. New figures released yesterday by World Wide Worx show SA has finally hit the 10% penetration level, with five million people having access to the Internet.

Goldstuck says phishing will become more of a problem as Internet penetration grows, as not everyone is familiar with such scams.

Steve Higgins, speaking on behalf of First National Bank, says phishing is an ongoing and serious problem, as is card scamming and other types of scams. He says the organisation constantly informs its customers of the danger of clicking on unknown links.

Standard Bank's director of online banking, mobile and messaging, Warren Francis, adds that, while phishing is an everyday occurrence, the bank has not seen a shift in the trend around the types of mails sent out.

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