This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

The news sucks. But your reading experience doesn't have to. Help us improve that for you by registering for free.

Please create a password or click to receive a login link.

Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

We need so many more of our readers to join them. The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country. We are inundated with tip-offs; we know where to look and what to do with the information when we have it – we just need the means to help us keep doing this work.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

All you need to know about cybercrime scams



Data scam and impersonation fraud statistics are skyrocketing, here’s what you need to know

(Photo: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg)

The recent breach of credit bureau TransUnion’s South African database is expected to have wide repercussions for South African consumers.  

Two years ago, another credit bureau, Experian, had a data breach relating to 24 million consumers. The South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) reported that, in the year after the Experian breach, it saw a massive jump in fraud across the country. Chief executive of SAFPS, Manie van Schalkwyk, said fraud listings increased by 62%, victim listings increased by 54% and impersonation fraud tripled, rising 337%.

Less than six months ago, the Information Regulator raised the alarm that personal information accessed via the Experian data breach was being circulated on messaging app Telegram. Experian advised that it had asked its lawyers to request that the mobile operator suspend the cellphone account of the user who made the data publicly accessible, but told the regulator the user’s identity was unknown.

At the time, the chairperson of the Information Regulator, Pansy Tlakula, said: “Given the massive amount of data that was illegally obtained from Experian in 2020, and the evidence that this data remains in various platforms, contrary to assurances that had been given to us, it is clear that we have not seen the last incident of this type of exposure of people’s personal information.”

Although a hacking group claimed to have accessed the personal information of 54 million South Africans, TransUnion maintained that this was related to a previous data breach at the Department of Home Affairs. Last week’s breach “impacted an isolated server holding limited data in South Africa”.

TransUnion said fields of information that may have be affected included names, ID numbers, dates of birth, gender, contact details, marital status and information, identity of employer and duration of employment, vehicle finance contract number, and even vehicle identification numbers.

“In isolated circumstances, spouse information, passport numbers, credit or insurance scores may be impacted. Each data subject may have a combination of different fields impacted, depending on what data was available,” stated the TransUnion website.

TransUnion is now offering a year’s subscription to its identity protection package, TrueIdentity, to affected consumers.

South Africa has a Cybercrimes Act, which came into effect on 1 December 2021. Although TransUnion dodged a R50,000 fine by reporting the cybercrime within 72 hours, it may still be liable for a fine of up to R10-million under the Protection of Personal Information Act, for failing to adequately protect consumer data.

Van Schalkwyk said the personal information accessed was likely used in one of two ways. The first would be a phishing scam in which the criminals pretend to be from a financial institution. Phishing mails usually contain links to a website that looks like that of your bank. You are then prompted to log in to your online banking.

Once logged in, you have given the phishers your log-in and online banking password. Banks maintain that you have compromised your banking information and you are held financially responsible.

The second would be to impersonate you, known as identity theft. Using your personal details, the criminal applies for credit and racks up bills in your name. Again, you are held liable for this debt unless you can prove that it was not you.

How to know if you are affected

If you have incurred debt – from a personal, car or home loan, credit cards or a hire purchase agreement to buy furniture or tech, your details will be on file with the credit bureaus. TransUnion says it will be contacting affected consumers. You can be pre-emptive and contact South Africa’s four credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, Compuscan and XDS to check your credit profile.

Van Schalkwyk says the SAFPS offers a free service called Protection Registration, which offers a second layer of protection.

Scams to watch out for

Giuseppe Virgillito, FNB head of digital banking, said that typical scams to watch out for included:

Lost/stolen device: You receive a message to “help” locate your recently stolen device. The fraudster claims that, by clicking on the embedded link, you can locate the device. If your device is lost or stolen, delink your device from your banking app, block your banking profile and contact your bank.

Remote access: Be wary of random requests to install software on personal or business devices. This tactic can be used to install malicious software to access your banking profiles. If you suspect you are a victim, block your profile immediately and contact your bank.

SIM swap: A SIM swap occurs when a fraudster transfers your phone number to another service provider to control your SMS notifications. They then control notifications such as a one-time PIN (OTP) to commit fraud. Use services like FNB’s Smart InContact and never share your OTP.

SMS scam: Fraudsters claim that someone is trying to make a fraudulent transaction on your account. They send an SMS to share your banking credentials to deactivate your online or app banking profile. Even when doing transaction reversals, banks will never ask you to share your banking credentials such as your log-in details or PIN.

Social engineering: This includes malicious attempts deployed through human interaction to manipulate and trick people into making security mistakes or giving away sensitive information by working on their emotions. Some include vishing and phishing.

Vishing: Fraudsters pose as employees of a financial institution and try to persuade you to share your personal and banking information telephonically. A reputable financial services provider will never ask you to share this telephonically or via other channels. End the call immediately.

Phishing: Fraudsters send a link that directs you to a fake website where you enter your financial or personal information. If you must, visit a financial institution or a service provider’s website, type their web address into the URL rather than clicking on links.

Social media scams: Offers of low interest rate loans or crypto investment opportunities with high returns on social media are becoming quite common. Use reputable service providers and be wary of unsolicited offers. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

  • Why is it not possible to locate the user of the cell phone distributing this info? The technology exists to track a phone.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted