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Spam SMSs that prey on the desperate may well be legitimate — but they must follow certain rules
Are you inundated with SMSs offering loans at seemingly unbelievable interest rates? The National Credit Regulator (NCR) has warned consumers about unscrupulous credit providers or scam artists trying to take your hard-earned money.
If you are up against the wall, the chances of you either falling for a scam or taking out dangerous levels of debt increases.
While some may be offering legitimate insurance or credit, some offers are from unscrupulous lenders — and there are also criminals attempting to scam you out of money without providing a service at all.
The trick is to distinguish the legitimate offers from the dodgy ones, and while you may be able to block unsolicited marketing from legitimate providers, there isn’t much more you can do to stop criminals permanently.
If you don’t want to receive marketing SMSs from legitimate service providers, the only redress currently available is to block them, Jennifer Preiss, the deputy ombud for long-term insurance says. “The law will be different in future after the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act is fully implemented.”
The POPI Act is designed to ensure that SA companies and other entities conduct themselves in a responsible manner when collecting, storing and using personal information, with the purpose of preventing abuse. The final POPI regulations were published in December last year.
Once implemented, the act and its regulations oblige those who use electronic communications for marketing to obtain your consent. If marketing is by way of physical communication, consent is not required, John Giles, managing attorney at Michalsons and an expert in information law, says.
“You can submit a request for the consent in virtually any way you choose. You can send them an SMS, e-mail them, talk to them, ask on a website, ask on an app, and ask over the phone,” he says. In an article on the Michalsons website, however, Giles says there are no clear controls and the accountability is still left with the company doing the marketing.
The regulations and the POPI Act will only commence on a date to be determined by the NCR and published in the Government Gazette, Giles says.
In the meantime, if you decide to act on offers sent to you by SMS, make sure it is a valid offer from the provider, Preiss suggests. If you respond to an SMS it would generally be regarded as a responding to a marketing lead, and your response would not constitute any legal contract with the provider for the product being advertised.
“The SMSs I have seen invite the consumer to reply to the insurer if interested in the offer. A response to the SMS would therefore not conclude an agreement. There would be a subsequent phone call or other interaction in which the agreement is concluded between the insurer and the consumer," says Preiss.
“I am not aware of an SMS which in itself is an offer that, if accepted, results in an agreement. In any event, a complaint about a long-term insurance agreement (including funeral insurance) falls under the jurisdiction of an ombud, whatever way it is concluded.”
The National Credit Act does not prohibit credit providers from marketing their services and products, the NCR’s Lebogang Selibi says of unsolicited texts offering loans.
“However, the act prohibits statements or phrases such as ‘no credit checks required’, ‘blacklisted consumers welcome’, and ‘free credit’. Consumers are, however, cautioned to be wary of advertisements that will lure them to take credit that they cannot afford and consumers are also advised to only use credit providers registered with the NCR.”
A registered credit provider should have an NCRCP number, a registration certificate, and a window decal (orange sticker) and which should also appear on the NCR website.
Registered credit providers are also limited in the charges they can apply for, for example, interest, initiation fees, services fees, credit life, default fees and debt-collection charges. If you are unsure if the fee is correct, you can contact the NCR (www.ncr.org.za).
How to spot a scammer
When asked by Money how people can protect themselves, Selibi compiled a list of five things the NCR cautions consumers to look out for when receiving unsolicited SMSs:
- The scams would sometimes use the NCRCP numbers of legitimate companies. Consumers should check the NCR website or contact the NCR for confirmation of registration.
- Sometimes, the address on their communiqué is not the same as that listed on the NCR website. This includes contact details.
- Their e-mail addresses often have internet domains such as yahoo.com; webmail.co.za; .co.uk; @admin.in.th; @manager.in.th.
- They often require an upfront payment for the release of personal loans before giving the consumer the loan — which they will never give to the consumer.
- They will say that they do not conduct any affordability assessments. Do not engage with credit providers that do not conduct affordability assessments. Furthermore, never give false or incorrect information on a credit application about your financial affairs. Always disclose your financial obligations and living expenses fully.
The bad news if SMSs irritate you is that companies are allowed to market their services and SMS messaging is a key marketing technique.
In a report released by identity tracking mobile app Truecaller last year, SA is ranked the fourth-most spammed country in the world for direct phone calls. The only countries that have to deal with more annoying phone calls than SA are Brazil, India and Chile.
Remember, you should never be forced to make financial decisions under pressure. It is always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with an unsolicited SMS or phone call. When you are under the most stress you are most susceptible to making decisions you may regret later.