For most South Africans, pay day usually means ‘we are happy’ to finally have the money again in our accounts to spend right? or is it a dreadful day for others?

Pay day usually brings many people joy, but it can also be the day that brings devastating reality of being a victim of debit order abuse or fraud, as rogue companies or fraudsters wait for your pay day to unlawfully debit from your bank account without your knowledge.

It is so unfortunate that what is supposed to be a happy day for you (pay day) may also be a pay day for criminals at your expense.

Debit order fraud and abuse has become a major issue in this country in the past few years which has seen a rise in fraud syndicates that abuse the debit order facility with banks struggling to protect monies from being stolen from individuals account.

A number of people have seen a number of times unauthorised debit order of amounts ranging from R49, R55, R99, R115 just to name a few debited from their bank accounts.

In some cases customers are only aware when SMSes inform them of these transactions or sometimes when they print statements then they realise that they have been defrauded. Not everyone is aware of these illegal transactions and thereby some bank account holders are victims of debit order fraud without their knowledge.

The CEO and Ombudsman for Banking Services, Reana Steyn says rouge companies pounce on unsuspecting bank account holders and illegally debit funds every month as long as they are not noticed.

Steyn says what perpetuates this crime to remain undetected is the fact that few people regularly check their bank statements so as to report any suspicious transaction, and for that reason she is calling on consumers to religiously check bank statements.

She says once one notices fraudulent activity in their account they need to quickly contact the service provider in question and if that fails they need to urgently report to the bank to advise the bank to reverse the funds.

She says aggrieved customers can also escalate their complaints to Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) as well to her office (Ombudsman for Banking Services).

Consumers are still ignorant

The Ombudsman says the reason there is low conviction rate of such crime is because consumers are still ignorant and not properly educated on how to manage their bank account. But she also stressed that her office is doing its best to educate the public citing radio and print as one of the platform her office utilises.

Steyn cites identity theft as another reason that fuels debit order fraud, and has cautioned consumers to be extra vigilant and protective of their identity documents to ensure that it does fall in the wrong hands.
Echoing her sentiments in warning consumers to be vigilant, CEO of PASA Walter Volker says consumers should be watchful when entering into contracts, verbally, electronically or in writing.

“Do not provide or confirm account information if you are not sure of what it will be used for,” cautions Volker.

Volker also points out that as a consumer one has the right to dispute or request a bank to reverse debit orders that they have not agreed to.

However, he is quick to point out that one cannot dispute a debit order they have a legal contract and have agreed to the debit order. “If you really are not able to pay your debt, you should contact the company you owe the money to, and make other payment arrangements,” adds Volker.

“Debit Orders remain a safe and convenient way to pay. Consumers are encouraged to be watchful when entering into contracts, to not provide their account information if they are not sure what it will be used for, and to check their bank statements regularly. We also encourage consumers to honour their commitments and not dispute debit orders they have legitimate contracts for. ”

Story and visuals by Thuthuka Maseko and Okuhle Magcaba