How to Avoid Telephone and Internet Spam

I notice those unwanted emails and phone calls are on the up again, and decided to provide a heads up on why this is happening, and how you could be spammed. Before I start, let's get a few definitions behind us so you don't get confused:


  • Original Meaning – During World War II, the British were running short of meat on their island. The government instructed the factories to make a meat product called spam. This was pork mince mixed with grain so it went further. Hence the expression “spammy” meaning not genuine...

About five years ago, spammy emails and phone calls hit South Africa big time. This was around the same time that first world nations started to outlaw it. The term for this is “dumping” unwanted products. Cheap cigarettes are a good example. If you smoke them, life is going to be tough for you in your old age.

  • Modern Meaning - Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the internet / telephone, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware...

  • In Afrikaans - Irrelevant of ongevraagde telefoon oproepe / boodskappe oor die internet gestuur, vir die doeleindes van advertensies, phishing, die verspreiding van malware...

While I was researching this article, I was interrupted three times by spam. First, I was emailed about a problem with an ABSA bank account I don't have. After that, someone called me to do a survey but was unwilling to provide their contact details. Then an email arrived telling me I had won a million pounds in a competition I had never entered.

These messages have only one thing in mind. And that is to discover my personal details and raid my bank account. Let's take a closer look at how these things work.

Banking Details

Each of your bank accounts / credit cards links to your personal identity. These belong to you, and only you are supposed to be able to access them. Depending on whether you are withdrawing money over the counter, taking it out of an auto-teller, transferring money on the internet or paying for your shopping, you will be asked to provide at least some of the following information:

  • Your full name
  • Your phone number
  • Your identity number
  • Your postal address
  • Your bank account number
  • Your banking details
  • Your credit card information
  • Your personal identity number (PIN)

If somebody has all this information on you, they can use your credit card or draw money from your bank account without you being able to stop them in time. It's that scary, and it can be that easy too.

How Crooks Get Your Information

Your full name, address, and account details are on every credit card / bank statement you get through the mail. Never throw them in the garbage. Shred them or burn them instead. Your identity number in on just about every government form you complete - and also on your driving licence that you leave in the cubbyhole. Your phone number is probably on your social pages or in the Telkom phone directory.

It is easy for a crook to get all the following information about you by going through your rubbish, breaking into your car or borrowing a telephone directory...

  • Your full name
  • Your identity number
  • Your address
  • Your bank account number
  • Your banking details
  • Your credit card information

All They Need is Your PIN

That is the scariest part of all. Would you believe that 78% of all email traffic is spam? It is clogging the internet, and illegal in many countries. In the UK, you can log your details on a government database. If anybody emails you or calls you after that without your request, they are guilty of a crime. The Australian Government imposes penalties of up to $10,000 per incident. In South Africa, we do nothing.

Most email spam is aiming at your weak spot and that's your banking details. The most commonest include that you have won money, or they want to transfer cash via your bank account for some or other reason. Once they have this information, they go into overdrive searching for your pin.

Many people choose a memorable personal identification number and use it for all their accounts. Crooks use this to their advantage. They know you may have based yours on one of the following, for example:

  • Your date of birth
  • Your initials
  • Your partners name
  • A number series
  • The name of your pet

After they trace your social media page and read it through, they spin all the information they have about you through a computer. This generates endless combinations of possible pins. When one of these opens the door to your bank account, they go in and help themselves. Their success rate is microscopic. This is why they send so many messages every microsecond.

The Dangers of Telephone Surveys

Many phone surveys are genuine. However it is impossible to tell the difference between these and spam ones. As the conversation proceeds, you may find yourself being asked for:

  • Your full name
  • Your postal address
  • Your annual salary
  • The bank you use
  • The social media you prefer
  • Your date of birth
  • Your partner's name
  • And so on

I am sure you get the picture. The best advice that I can give you is to put the phone down, before you drop your guard.

Fighting Back Against Spam

Don't waste your time complaining to spammers. Telephone ones will laugh at you. Email ones will sell your address and details because you have confirmed them. The Marketing Association takes complaints about its members seriously. Unfortunately spammers seldom are. The Internet Service Providers Association has more teeth. Visit its Hall of Shame and report email spam.

The secret to not being robbed at home, over the phone or on your computer is remaining alert. Next time you suspect a spam attack ask the following four questions:

  • How come they have my contact details?
  • Did I ask for the information?
  • Does it sound too good to be true?
  • What makes me special? Why contact me?

It is a far safer bet to do some surveys. You are not wasting time. You are earning money, as opposed to running the risk of being spammed.

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