South Africa has become a playground for cybercriminals to test their attacks and see if they are effective, with online scams and attacks increasing significantly in recent years.
During an interview with Newzroom Africa, the South African Fraud Prevention Service’s (SAFPS’) Nazia Karrim said the primary cause of the high rate of cybercrime in the country is because its residents lack education regarding online safety.
“The problem we have is that our community isn’t digitally educated. They’re not digitally literate. They’re currently not very educated on the safety protocols when using the different types of Internet of things and devices,” said Karrim.
“As such, they are more vulnerable to falling victim to cyber-type scams, and therefore, it’s making it [South Africa] an effective playground for perpetrators to come and try it out on us to see if it works.”
“If it works here then the likelihood of it working somewhere else is very high,” added Karrim.
When asked whether enough is being done by authorities to protect the South African public against cybercrime, Karrim said the effort is there, but it isn’t enough as yet.
“I think our authorities are making an effort to get to that point. I don’t think we’re there just yet,” she said.
“We are working towards public-private collaborations. For example, SAFPS works with the South African cyberfraud task team. We also have specialists within Hawks and SAPS [South African Police Service].”
Karrim said scams, where cybercriminals put up the front of a large well-known business, are on the rise.
“Scammers are learning that consumers associate themselves with trusted brands or a trusted institution, especially when it comes to our finances and things like loans,” she stated.
“The scammers impersonate the businesses, offering services and products, making consumers believe it is coming from a trusted entity, so they will definitely be protected.”
However, Karrim said many South Africans fail to do the due diligence around these impersonation scams, and many victims lose a lot of their money.
Recently, scam videos featuring deepfakes of well-known news anchors speaking to influential business people like Elon Musk.
A deepfake scam video of SABC News anchor Francis Herd was spotted running as an advertisement on Facebook and YouTube.
The video opens with Herd’s deepfake saying, “Elon Musk’s project has scared government and big banks. He has come up with a secret investment that has made hundreds of people very rich.”
It also features SABC News branding and an overlay at the lower portion of the screen stating: “Everyone who invests R4700 can earn R300,000 per month”.
It was uploaded on Friday, 3 November 2023, and had amassed 100,000 views by the afternoon of Tuesday, 7 November 2023.
While those familiar with the news anchor’s voice will have likely realised that it her, casual news viewers may not realise it is a fake.
Awareness and education is key
As Karrim mentioned, South Africa is a great testing ground for cybercriminals due to a lack of education regarding online protection and doing due diligence regarding suspected scams.
However, she added that creating awareness is the key and provided details about the SAFPS’s Ima website, which aims to teach the public about different types of scams.
“I think the first thing that’s important to know is that this week is fraud awareness week, and as part of that, we are helping to create awareness,” said Karrim.
“SAFPS has also created a dedicated website for scam prevention. It’s called Ima, which means to ‘stop’ in Zulu and in Xhosa.”
“That particular site is hoping to help consumers drive awareness and prevention by teaching them about the different types of scams and equipping them with products and solutions that they can use daily,” she added.