By Raine St. Claire

Exports estimate that an identity is stolen somewhere in the world every two seconds. Unfortunately, many individuals mistakenly believe they are immune to such crimes until it is too late, and their financial reputation lies in ruins. This is according to the Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, who delivered the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) on Wednesday, November 1.

Prevent the silent crime that lingers

Adopting a proactive approach is essential, as opportunistic criminals are no longer the sole threat. Well-organised syndicates are growing in numbers and are keeping pace with the latest global tactics. This “silent” crime often goes undetected for extended periods, sometimes years, while victims accumulate substantial debts in their name. Often, cases of identity theft only surface when victims start receiving unfamiliar bills, debt collection notices, or face credit denials due to their tarnished credit records.

The stats

The Southern African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) has reported a significant surge in impersonation fraud, the proliferation of forged documents, and incidents of money muling within South Africa. Manie van Schalkwyk, the CEO of SAFPS, has expressed concern about the growing audacity of fraudsters and their increasing involvement in fraudulent activities.

According to SAFPS’s most recent fraud statistics covering the period between April 2022 and April 2023, impersonation fraud has experienced a 356% increase. The use of forged documentation, including counterfeit driver’s licences used for fraudulent identification purposes in credit applications, has surged by 62%. SAFPS attributes this surge to data breaches and the compromise of personal information, which has notably risen in South Africa.

Protecting your identity

Your identity can be stolen through various means, including intercepting bank transactions, hacking into websites where you have made online purchases, extracting information from your social media profiles, or simply pilfering your mail from your mailbox or rubbish bin. Any document, whether in print or digital format, that contains your name and personal information can make you susceptible to identity theft.

Given the increasing cunning and speed of identity thieves, consumers must take proactive measures to protect their personal information. Simple steps can enhance personal information security, such as locking your mailbox, shredding old documents before disposal, safeguarding personal documents from prying eyes, and protecting your online identity.

  • Create Strong Passwords

An essential method to reduce the risk of online identity theft is by creating strong, unique passwords.

  • Use Different Passwords for Different Accounts

If a thief steals from one of your accounts, do not make it easy for them to steal from others.

  • Do Not Be Obvious

The first attempts at cracking passwords thieves will use are “password,” “1234567890,” or birthdates.

  • Be Random

Pick something obscure. Do not use your name and stay away from real words.

  • Misspelling Is Good

Replace some letters with numbers and symbols.

  • The Longer, The Better

The longer the password, the harder it could be to figure out.

  • Use a Mnemonic

Think up a sentence, and use the first or last letter of each word as your password.

  • Double Protection

Opt for a two-factor security system that requires two distinct forms of identification in order to access something.

  • Black and White Approach

Do not save passwords on your devices. Write them down and hide the records somewhere separate from your devices.

Enhancing safety and security: The imperative of biometric identity verification

Identity theft is no longer just a financial concern; it’s a pervasive threat that impacts both individuals and the South African economy, costing over R1.5-billion annually. As Gur Geva, the founder and CEO of the pan-African fintech innovator, iiDENTIFii, emphasises, “Everybody will be affected by identity theft, whether directly or indirectly, at some stage.” In today’s financial landscape, onboarding processes for financial services and wealth management are taking on increased significance. This shift is driven by global efforts to combat money laundering and illicit financing. The financial sector, particularly the banking industry, is now prioritising biometric verification not only as a regulatory requirement but also as a fundamental safety and security measure.

To address this, companies are implementing robust identity verification methods, including advanced technologies like 3D liveness detection. At the forefront of these developments, iiDENTIFii stands out as an African pioneer in the realm of 4D liveness detection and triangulation technologies, known for their precision and security. Moreover, there’s a growing imperative for governments and organisations that have yet to fully embrace digital biometric identity verification.

This is not merely a local push but a global demand. From an online safety and security standpoint, verified proof of identity is poised to become the new norm. It does more than just safeguard financial interactions; it upholds the integrity of businesses and individuals alike. In an era marked by identity theft, embracing transformative technology becomes crucial to protect both the individual and the economy.

Legal consequences for identity theft in South Africa

There is no specific legislation in South Africa that directly addresses and prosecutes individuals for the crime of identity theft. Instead, perpetrators are usually charged with common law offences such as fraud or forgery. The penalties for fraud involving amounts less than R500,000 can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the severity of the offence.

Offenders may be subject to fines, probation, community service, or imprisonment, with sentences typically ranging from several months to a few years. In cases where the financial amounts involved exceed R500,000, first-time offenders may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. For repeat offenders, the legal consequences become even more severe, with penalties ranging from 20 to 25 years or even longer.

Source: BusinessTech | Law for All | SAFPS | ITWeb

Read the November 2023 edition here: