Alarming rise in identity theft in South Africa

 ·17 Jun 2023

The Southern African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) has reported a significant increase in impersonation fraud, the number of forged documents and cases of money muling in South Africa.

Manie van Schalkwyk, the CEO of the services, said that it is concerning that fraudsters are getting brazen and are increasing in fraudulent activity.

According to SAFPS’s latest fraud statistics assessed between April 2022 and April 2023, impersonation fraud has increased by 356%.

“This can be attributed to data leaks and compromised personal data, which has shown a significant recent increase in South Africa,” SAFPS said.

“South Africa is investing heavily in digitisation to catch up with the rest of the world. However, while digitisation will revolutionise the South African economy in the future, it has risks.”

“According to a 2021 Interpol report, South Africa tops Africa in cyber threats and is third in the world, with 230 million threats detected in 2021. Of these, 219 million threats were related to emails,” said Van Schalkwyk.

He added that scams whereby fraudsters assume the identity of a victim are also a significant challenge and showed a 236% increase over the same period in 2022.

In 2023, there has been a significant rise of 62% in the use of forged documentation compared to the previous year. Instances include things such as counterfeit driver’s licences which are used for identification purposes when seeking credit.

The SAFPS also reported an increase (62%) in money-muling incidents when compared to the year prior.

SAFPS said one of the most common forms of money-muling is when a victim is approached by someone claiming that they need to send money to a family member in another country and they need a bank account to perform this transaction.

Wanting to help, many people willingly let these fraudsters use their bank accounts. While this may seem an innocent crime, research from Cifas in the UK points out that money-muling funds activities such as drug and human trafficking and terrorist activities.

“The repercussions of being a money mule are significant. The guilty party will be listed with the SAFPS, and the result is that the individual could struggle to get access to finance for a period of 10 years,” said Van Schalkwyk.

Recent statistics mark Gauteng as the hotbed for fraud, with 66% of all reported fraud incidents occurring in the economic hub.

KwaZulu-Natal followed suit, making up 17%, and the Western Cape in third with 8%.

To combat fraud, Van Schalkwyk said that it is important to take a proactive stance.

“Opportunistic criminals are not conducting fraud. Instead, fraud is being conducted by well-run syndicates that are up-to-date with the current tactics being used globally. As the custodian of fraud in Southern Africa, the SAFPS is committed to monitoring the fraud landscape and sharing key statistics that will help shape our tactics for preventing consumers from becoming fraud victims,” said Van Schalkwyk.

Read: These South Africans are at risk of double tax, experts warn

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