Increase in digital bank fraud as criminals cash in on pandemic: Sabric

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
The City of Johannesburg received a bitcoin ransom note from the Shadow Kill Hackers after a computer network breach.
The City of Johannesburg received a bitcoin ransom note from the Shadow Kill Hackers after a computer network breach.
Image: 123RF/dolgachov

With more South Africans shopping and transacting online during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in digital banking fraud.

This is according to the SA Banking Risk Information Centre’s (Sabric) annual crime statistics for 2020, released on Wednesday.

Sabric said the pandemic coupled with the implementation of Disaster Management Act regulations “had a notable influence on financial crime trends in 2020.

“It triggered changes in human behaviour, human movement and policing, creating new opportunities for criminals which significantly impacted the number of crime incidents.”

Sabric found while some types of crime decreased, overall there was an increase in banking crime incidents.

“As customers turned to online shopping and settling payments on apps, criminals enhanced their efforts to phish customers to steal their personal data to defraud them on digital and online platforms,” said Sabric.

Digital banking fraud increased by 33%.

Debit card fraud rose by 22% but credit card fraud decreased by 7%.

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

Associated robberies saw a decline of 24% in 2020 compared to 2019, with decreases evident in the Free State, the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.

While ATM attacks decreased by 9% overall, ATM explosive incidents increased by 20%.

Cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies decreased significantly due to the level 5 lockdown in April and May 2020, but once restrictions were lifted, these increased again by 22% as criminals were able to move with fewer restrictions and fear of roadblocks and searches.

Robberies and burglaries increased by 42% and 12% respectively.

Sabric CEO Nischal Mewalall said: “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 getting access to your safe.”

Mewalall warned that cybercrime and data breaches will present “a significant threat to customers and because even the best security and technology can be compromised when criminals source and use legitimate data illegally to carry out a crime”.

He cautioned bank customers to never click on links in unsolicited e-mails “as these links are used in phishing e-mails to drive people to bogus websites which look like legitimate online retailers, complete with enticing images and convincing taglines.

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

“We continue to see 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.”

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