Over the course of the past decade, the brick-and-mortar institutions of yesteryear have rapidly been replaced by online counterparts, with South Africans now turning to the Internet to perform banking transactions, book flights and even shop for groceries.
While this rapid surge in connectivity has undoubtedly made the world a more convenient place, it’s also made many South Africans vulnerable to the threat of online fraud and identity theft, writes Nthabiseng Moloi, head of marketing and brand at MiWay.
According to recently released statistics from the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS), identity theft has increased by over 200% in the past six years, with an estimated 8.8 million South Africans affected by cybercrime in the last year alone.
Not only is this scourge of criminal activity the result of increasingly savvy phishing and hacking schemes, but also thanks to the recent boom in smart devices. From TVs to fitness trackers, smart watches to tablets, South Africans are more connected than ever before and consequently more susceptible to cyber-crime.
While most of us are familiar with and wary of the threat of being defrauded online, many are less vigilant when it comes to identity theft, which can in fact be just as damaging. Using your personal identity data, criminals are able to open myriad accounts in your name, purchasing on credit and essentially rendering you ineligible for loans or accounts of any description.
So how do you avoid falling prey to this growing threat? Here are a few easy ways to up your online security.
Dial down the social media specifics
Social media platforms like Facebook serve as ideal points of entry for identity thieves, given that many of our profiles offer up a goldmine of personal information. As such, it’s vital that you keep what you share to a minimum, making sure not to publish your birth date, phone number or other details. Ultimately, the less you share, the safer you’ll be from would-be criminals.
Switch things up
In order to efficiently recall our passwords, many of us tend to use the same sequence of numbers and letters across all our online accounts, making it easy for hackers to worm their way in. With increasingly sophisticated programmes now available to cybercriminals, guessing your password is simpler than you might expect, and as such, it’s vital that you change things up regularly.
Ensure your password is replete with upper- and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers, and make sure to change it at least once every six months – remember, routine is any criminal’s ultimate ally.
It’s also important not to store your password anywhere where it might be easily accessible to an ardent hacker – consider using password protection software, which will keep your sensitive information stored in a secure online vault.
Don’t go phishing
Any site that asks for unnecessary personal information like your ID number, medical aid information or bank account details should immediately raise your suspicion. Phishing websites, which masquerade as legitimate businesses but essentially operate as data mining entities, are increasingly prevalent in the online space.
So before you share any of your personal information, ensure that the site you’re on is a legitimate operation, something that can usually be identified by the ‘https’ at the start of the URL, which signifies a secure and encrypted connection.
Look beyond the obvious
While South Africans tend to be more vigilant than their global counterparts when it comes to online security, this seldom extends beyond the realm of laptops and smartphones. Video game systems, smart TVs and wearables tend to be overlooked by many as potential hacking devices – a mistake that can and should be easily remedied.
Essentially, anything you use to access the Internet should be treated with the same level of attentiveness, as each is capable of broadcasting personal data, which you don’t want getting into the wrong hands.
When it comes to online security, vigilance is key. Should you ever find yourself unsure of a site’s security, or notice any suspicious activity in the form of unexpected account statements or unusual banking activity, make sure to contact the relevant authorities immediately.