SMS Phishing Scam / 419 Scam Warning

South Africa has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world. Local businesses are increasingly using SMS as a means of communication with their clients. Both businesses and the consumer benefit from this. Unfortunately there is also a dark side to this communication medium. There are SMS versions of 419 scams, phishing scams and fake payment confirmations. Scammers try anything to get their hands on consumers’ money.

SMS 419 Scam: This scam works very similar to the E-mail version of the 419 scam. The message is generally focused around a cash prize that you have won. The scammer asks for you a deposit in order to release your winnings. “Congratulations!” is a common word used in these scam SMSes. Scammers also love using non-professional e-mail addresses. The message will pretend that the prize is from a known brand, but the e-mail address included in the SMS will be a Yahoo or Hotmail address.

SMS Phishing Scam: Phishing scams have their origin in E-mail. Banks have managed to decrease these attacks through user education. Fraudsters have now moved to using SMSes for phishing scams because users do not generally expect it. People have assumed that SMSes are more secure than E-mails. The reason for this is because it seems like a more personal communication method. This is not the case though. A bank will never ask for your confidential information via e-mail. The same goes for SMS. It’s highly unlikely that a bank will ask you for confidential information via SMS. If fraudsters obtain your online banking information nothing stops them from accessing your bank accounts and transferring funds to locations of their choice.

Fake Payment Confirmation SMS Scam: In this case an official bank SMS will be copied. This message will appear to be a typical bank SMS payment confirmation. The scammer will claim to be a potential buyer for an item that is for sale. They will send a fake payment confirmation. The seller will release the goods to them without knowing that the confirmation is fake. These kinds of messages are sent from individual phones, via international SMS providers or occasionally via a local wireless application service provider (WASP). This type of scam was covered in a previous post on the Junk Mail blog.

What is being done about this:  Some WASPs look out for these types of scams and close them down where possible. Some providers automatically pick up fraudulent messages through filtering methods and block them. At network level cell phone service providers (like MTN and Vodacom) are working hard to prevent fraudulent messages originating from international networks. However, it is very difficult to track down these fraudsters. Most of them use stolen identities in the first place. Even if authorities trace an IP address and an offending computer is identified it still needs to be proven that the alleged fraudster used the computer at the time the fraudulent act was carried out.

What can you you do: Consumer education is very important. Here are a few basic tips that consumers can follow:

  • The Golden Rule is: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”
  • Save the phone number of your bank on your mobile phone and always phone your bank to verify potentially fraudulent SMSes.
  • Check network operator websites and the internet in general for reports on the latest SMS scams.
  • Report abuse to WASPA (Wireless Application Service Providers Association).

Junk Mail users who have been victims of one of these scams (or any other scam) are urged to report it to our Customer Care department. The department can be contacted on 012-3423840 x2295 or via e-mail at

Remember: Be Smart! Be Savvy! Be Safe!

You might also want to read the following posts for useful information about scams:


Henno Kruger

Digital Marketing Campaign Coordinator at Junk Mail Publishing.

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