Tag Archives: Fraud

The risk of EFT fraud when selling a car

B1Electronic Funds Transfers, better known as EFTs, have become a popular payment method in South Africa, accepted by many in lieu of cash or cheque payments. This allows buyers to reverse payments and essentially fraud sellers into thinking that they’ve been paid.

Many accept the printed EFT document as “proof” of a cash payment into the bank account, especially in the selling and buying of motor vehicles. They insist on the transfer to be made immediately there and then, after which the vehicle is transferred and registered to the buyer on the same day.

How do EFTs get abused?

The abuse of EFTs made to the seller’s bank account, especially between different financial entities, is yet another devious manner in which the original Natis documentation or registration of ownership of a motor vehicle can be obtained with no intention to honour the actual payment.

EFTs are governed by agreements between the various financial entities. Depending on the agreement, an EFT transaction can take up to two days to actually reflect as a deposit on the statement of the seller. The risk of accepting proof of an EFT as “proof” of actual payment as if it was a cash deposit, puts the seller at a real risk of being defrauded.

Most ordinary citizens do not know that an EFT can be reversed within a few hours after it has been made, depending on the individual financial institute at which the account is held. Devious fraudsters who are know the mechanics of the law and the financial systems in South Africa, use this knowledge to the detriment of others.

How to make payments more secure

In the sale of a motor vehicle, or any other object of which ownership is registered on the eNatis system, the Natis registration document is a very useful instrument to secure and verify payment prior to the transfer of registered ownership.

The easiest safeguard against any risk of loss because of non-payment, is the current, valid and original Natis document, reflecting the registered owner and titleholder of a vehicle.

For as long as the seller of the vehicle retains the possession of the original Natis document reflecting the seller as the registered owner, no fraudster or any other person can obtain registered ownership of the vehicle, unless the seller physically enables them to do so. Once payment actually reflects on the bank statement the necessary documentation should be handed over to effect transfer of registration to the purchaser or his nominee.

Should a seller hand the original Natis registration documents over prior to actual confirmation of payment, the vehicle can be traded and registered to any innocent third party, while the seller still waits for payment.

As no party to an agreement can transfer more rights than they are legally entitled to at that time, the seller will be able to claim the motor vehicle from any person who has such motor vehicle in his/her possession, even if the possessor at that stage has “purchased and paid” the vehicle.  As long as the motor vehicle has not been transferred and registered to a purchaser who has not paid for same, the seller can safeguard themselves in such a fraudulent transaction.

What happens if I’ve been defrauded?

In the event of the payment not coming through, your rights as seller can be enforced by means of a very simple but highly effective application to a court, which can be done with an interim relief order to return the vehicle by the Sheriff of the Court to the registered owner of the car at a date on which service is to be effected on the purchaser. After that, the normal motion procedure is followed. It is also recommended to issue a summons for the cancellation of the agreement, return of the vehicle, cost and interest simultaneously.

For as long as the seller retains and holds on to the original Natis documents on which he/she is reflected as the registered owner of the motor vehicle, the seller will have a definite right to be the entitled possessor of the motor vehicle.

A seller who has already caused registration of the vehicle to be transferred to the purchaser prior to having the payment secured, is left in a risky position. The seller has very little hope of success against such a buyer with the intention to defraud. A litigation process can be prolonged and costly with no guarantee of recovery of the loss.

For further reading, see Unitrans Automotive (Pty) Ltd vs Trustees of the Rally Motors Trust 2011 (4) SA 35, just one of the transactions during a shopping spree of fraudulent transactions using EFTs by a fraudulent purchaser, and other matters referred to in the judgement.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

SARS prescription

A2Imagine the following scenario: a taxpayer named Andrew is on his annual vacation for four weeks. On the fifth day of his vacation, he is lying carefree in the sun with his toes wiggled into the warm beach sand. A thought crosses his mind: perhaps he must check his email for a change.

Fast forward eight hours: Andrew logs in to his email. He gives the emails in his inbox a quick scan. Suddenly his stomach cramps. His heart beats faster. His hands start to sweat. His eye caught an email from SARS. Andrew opens the email and then the attachment reluctantly. The attachment contains a letter from SARS stating that they are going to re-assess his income tax for a specific tax year. The assessment for that particular tax year has been issued more than four years ago. Can SARS do this?

To be subjected to the prescription (or re-opening) of an assessment that has been finalised a few years ago already, is something taxpayers don’t even want to contemplate. However, in terms of the new Tax Administration Act, 28 of 2011 (TAA) SARS may go back more than three tax years into the past, prescribe and re-assess a tax return but only if the Commissioner is objectively, based on the facts, satisfied that both the following statutory requirements are met:

  1. There was fraud, misrepresentation or non-disclosure of material facts.

“Fraud” is defined as an unlawful act committed with the intention of misleading another person. The misleading information must cause the other person to act differently than they would have acted if they were not given the misleading information.

The legal meaning of “misrepresentation” refers to a false statement made by a person, regardless of whether the statement is made negilently, fraudulently or innocently. Misrepresentation does not include the expression of an opinion or an interpretation of law.The taxpayer must have made a positive statement which contained one or more facts that were untrue.

Note that innocence cannot be pleaded as an excuse for misrepresentation. Taxpayers thus have to make sure about the content of any statement they make regarding their tax affairs before making such a statement.

“Non-disclosure” means failure to reveal a fact if there is a duty to disclose it. Whether or not there is an intention to conceal it is irrelevant.

  1. The above fraud, misrepresentation or non-disclosure of the material facts was the direct cause that the taxpayer had been assessed for a lower amount of tax than if the taxpayer had disclosed these material facts referred to in section (i) above, to SARS.

There must be evidence of a direct link between the non-disclosure or misrepresentation of the material facts and the taxpayer paying too little tax. If the fraud, non-disclosure or misrepresentation of the material facts did not cause the taxpayer to be liable for less tax than he was assessed for without the material facts, the second requirement listed above is not met and SARS shouldn’t be able to apply this section of the TAA.

Generally the onus of proving that income is not taxable or that an expense is tax-deductable rests with the taxpayer. However, if SARS wants to apply the provisions of this section of the TAA, the onus of proving that the above requirements are met, rests with the Commissioner.

It seems that if the fraud, non-disclosure or misrepresentation of material facts did take place but did not cause the taxpayer to pay less tax than if SARS had been in possession of these material facts, and SARS would have assessed the taxpayer in exactly the same way as with the original assessment, despite SARS becoming aware of the material facts now, SARS cannot claim that the under-assessment was due to that fraud, non-disclosure or misrepresentation of the material facts.

If SARS wants to issue an additional assessment on the basis of requirement (i) above but requirement (ii) is not met, the taxpayer can deal with this situation using the objection and appeal provisions available.

In the light of SARS’s tools to go back and prescribe assessments for old tax years, it might be prudent to keep tax records for longer than the required retention periods prescribed by SARS.

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This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)