SIM-swap fraud skyrockets during South Africa’s Covid–19 lockdown

SIM-swap fraud nearly doubled, and digital banking fraud victims lost over R309 million to criminals during 2020, according to the latest statistics from the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric).

Bank app fraud decreased by 4%, although losses increased from R108.3 million to R123.9 million.

SIM-swap fraud related to banking app fraud saw more than a three-fold increase during 2020.

Sabric stated that the Covid–19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown had a notable influence on financial crime trends in 2020.

The lockdown triggered changes in human behaviour, human movement, and policing — creating new opportunities for criminals, significantly impacting the number of crime incidents.

While some crime types decreased, others increased as criminals exploited the Covid–19 pandemic.

Sabric said it had seen an overall increase in banking crime incidents.

Digital banking fraud increased by 33%.

As South Africans turned to online shopping and settling payments on apps, criminals enhanced their efforts to phish victims — stealing their personal data to defraud them on digital and online platforms.

“Your personal data, when combined with technology, has become the new key to the safe that holds your money in a bank, so you must safeguard your data to prevent criminals from getting access to your safe,” Sabric CEO Nischal Mewalall stated.

He warned that cybercrime and data breaches would represent a significant threat to customers and banks.

Mewalall said that even the best security and technology could be compromised when criminals illegally source and use legitimate data to carry out a crime.

Nischal Mewallal, Sabric CEO

Mewalall also warned bank clients to never click on links in unsolicited emails as these links are used in phishing emails to drive people to spoofed (forged) websites that look like legitimate online retailers.

“Criminals use these bogus websites to harvest bank card details to make online purchases using your account,” Mewalall warned.

“We are still seeing lots of scams advertising seemingly incredible deals for personal protective equipment, sanitiser and fake vaccines that exploit people’s concern for their health and safety.”

Sabric found that debit card fraud in South Africa rose by 22%. On a positive note, credit card fraud decreased by 7%.

Contact crime was impacted by the restriction of movement and visible policing, resulting in decreased incidents.

ATM attacks decreased by 9% overall, although ATM bombings increased by 20%. The overall decrease was driven by declines in grinder and cutting torch attacks.

Cash-in-transit robberies decreased significantly due to the Level 5 lockdown in April and May of 2020. Still, once the government lifted restrictions, these increased again by 22% as criminals could move with fewer restrictions and fear of roadblocks and searches.

Banking industry robberies and burglaries also increased by 42% and 12%, respectively.

Tips to protect yourself from SIM-swap fraud

  • If reception on your cell phone is lost, immediately check what the problem could be, as you could have been a victim of an illegal SIM swap on your number. If confirmed, notify your bank immediately.
  • Inform your bank should your cell phone number change so that your cellphone notification contact number is updated on its systems.
  • Register for your bank’s cell phone notification service and receive electronic messages relating to activities or transactions on your accounts as and when they occur.
  • Regularly verify whether the details received from cell phone notifications are correct and according to the recent activity on your account. Should any detail appear suspicious, immediately contact your bank and report all log-on notifications that are unknown to you.
  • Memorise your PIN and passwords. Never write them down or share them, not even with a bank official.
  • Make sure your PIN and passwords cannot be seen when you enter them.
  • If you think your PIN or password has been compromised, change it immediately, either online or at your nearest branch.
  • Choose a unique PIN and password that are hard to guess and change them often.

Now read: Hackers steal R100 million from South African University — but lost most of it

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SIM-swap fraud skyrockets during South Africa’s Covid–19 lockdown