Fraudsters may find ‘creative’ ways to get around Home Affairs’ new biometric system: expert

The South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) has praised Home Affairs’ plan to introduce a new biometric identification system – but cautioned that it’s not foolproof.

Announced in May, Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba said that the new Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) will be a milestone in South Africa’s pathway towards a new digital national identity system.

As part of the capturing of biometrics, Home Affairs is also set to improve access to South Africa, with the roll-out of e-visas, with the pilot phase expected to begin early in 2019.

While ABIS is a milestone for Home Affairs, biometric identification in itself is nothing new, said Manie van Schalkwyk, executive director of the SAFPS. He adds that finger print identification has been available to banks for many years.

“What is different with the system at Home Affairs is that it provides a centralised data source of consumer information,” he said.

“This finger print identification is a cradle to grave situation. In other words, it will allow for enhanced and safer data in terms of digital processing, storage of photos, fingerprints, signature, voice recording, demographic information and scanned supporting documents. Thus, it makes it easier to verify all the pieces of information pertaining to an individual.”

However, Van Schalkwyk cautioned that there had been a 52% increase in fraud listings in 2018 compared to last year – with identity theft labelled as one of the top concerns.

“A biometric system definitely curbs fraud, but what consumers must be careful of is that when fraudsters are stopped in one way, they will get creative in another,” he said.

“A common tactic is to recruit runners, or money mules, as they are called in the United Kingdom, to open accounts in their own names that then become a biometric match for the fraudster and leaves the runner in a great deal of trouble.”

He added that there has also been a surge in online fraud, where people are enticed by an email notification of a prize win, or the inheritance of a deceased rich uncle, which requests bank details for the funds to be transferred.

“A caller will phone posing as a legitimate bank employee with a story to ‘authorise a debit order that is about to be processed on your account’. They will extract a lot of information from you and even go as far as asking for your password, admitting that they know they should not be asking for it.

“The money in your account will be wiped out. Once you have given your password willingly, you have no recourse with your bank.”

“Never provide information where you have not solicited the enquiry yourself,” he said.

“We are in the electronic age where information is easily available to fraudsters. Treat your information in the same way that you treat cash. Be prudent.”

Read: Home Affairs to launch new identification system – with iris and facial recognition coming

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Fraudsters may find ‘creative’ ways to get around Home Affairs’ new biometric system: expert