How criminals used a mobile phone number and some personal details to steal a R5 million vehicle

South Africans should be wary of what personal details they post online over the December holidays, says Christelle Colman, insurance expert at Old Mutual.

She cited a recent case where criminals secured the mobile phone and personal details of someone who had just taken possession of a R5 million vehicle.

“Posing as the vehicle’s manufactures, the criminals contacted the new owner to inform them there was a problem with the steering function of the car and asked for the vehicle to be towed into the repair shop, gaining possession of the vehicle and never returning it.

“Unfortunately, investigators were unable to recover the vehicle,” she said.

Despite these instances, Colman said that insurers in South Africa are not currently using social media in a ‘scientific’ way, to build risk profiles and calculate premiums.

“The sheer volume of personal information online, however, offers insurers with the right algorithms the potential to use social media and other publicly available data to assess behavioural patterns for risk, pricing cover accordingly,” she said.

“This is already happening in a few developed markets. It is just a question of time before this becomes general practice in South Africa’s insurance market as well.”

Staying safe

From a security perspective, the point is not to make yourself a target, said Colman.

“Telling people where you are going on holiday, when you will be leaving your home, or, indeed, in an age of home invasions and kidnappings, when you will be having friends and family over, exposes you to risk.

“It is also very important that location services on devices are turned off, especially when the whereabouts of children are concerned, but also to avoid digital eavesdroppers from establishing your routines and other patterns.”

She said that a short-hand check is to simply to ask yourself, ‘how can the information that I place on social media be used against me?’

Apart from kidnap and other horror crimes, simply posting that you are at a restaurant with friends tells criminals that your home is unguarded, she said.

Below she outlined suggestions that consumers consider the following precautions to avoid falling prey to criminals in an age of social media:

  • Make sure all features and applications are password protected on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets;
  • Regularly update passwords and never divulge them to anyone;
  • Never post your home address or any other personal information, such as home phone numbers on social media platforms;
  • Turn off any location-based applications unless necessary;
  • Do not follow people you don’t know on social media sites;
  • Block people who you don’t know from viewing personal information;
  • Supply insurers with accurate and truthful claims and personal information;
  • Have a serious and informed discussion with your children around the significant risk of kidnapping which is becoming more prevalent in SA. Social media played a big role in a number of reported cases.

Read: South Africa is one of the least safe countries in the world

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How criminals used a mobile phone number and some personal details to steal a R5 million vehicle