The South African fraud landscape has increased significantly over the past three years, with impersonation fraud, money muling and forged documentation being the most significant challenges the Southern African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) have had to deal with. This year alone, there has been a dramatic increase in money muling and forged documents.

“It is concerning that fraudsters are getting more brazen and that the level of certain fraudulent activities is increasing rapidly,” says Manie van Schalkwyk, CEO of the SAFPS.

According to the SAFPS’s 2023 Fraud Statistics, which details the fraud incidents from April 2022 until the end of April 2023, money-muling incidents increased by 62% compared to the year before.

One of the most common forms of money muling is when a victim is approached by someone claiming that they need to send money to a family member in another country and they need a bank account to perform this transaction. Wanting to help, many people willingly let these fraudsters use their bank accounts.

While this may seem an innocent crime, research from Cifas in the UK points out that money-muling funds activities such as drug and human trafficking and terrorist activities.

“The repercussions of being a money mule are significant. The guilty party will be listed with the SAFPS and the result is that the individual could struggle to get access to finance for the a period of 10 years. It is one of the biggest issues that the SAFPS is currently facing, and it is important for the public to know about the seriousness of this crime,” says Van Schalkwyk.

To put the money mule risk increase into perspective, in 2021, money-muling only comprised 22% of the fraud incidents reported to the SAFPS. This increased to 35% in 2022 and 43% in the first four months of 2023.

Impersonation fraud is running rampant

The latest SAFPS Fraud Statistics indicate that impersonation fraud has increased by 356% over the past year. This can be attributed to data leaks and compromised personal data, which has shown a significant recent increase in South Africa.

“South Africa is investing heavily in digitisation to catch up with the rest of the world. However, while digitisation will revolutionise the South African economy in the future, it has risks. According to a 2021 Interpol report, South Africa tops Africa in cyber threats and is third in the world, with 230-million threats detected in 2021. Of these, 219-million threats were related to emails,” says Van Schalkwyk.

He adds that scams whereby fraudsters assume the identity of a victim are also a significant challenge and showed a 236% increase over the same period in 2022.

“There has been a marked increase in the use of forged documentation, which has increased by 62% over the same period in 2022. Other forged documentation instances include fake driver’s licences, which can be used as a form of identification when applying for credit. This is a risk that the SAFPS is keeping an eye on in the future,” says Van Schalkwyk.

Taking a stand

The SAFPS Fraud Statistics point out that Gauteng is the country’s biggest hotbed of fraud, where 66% of the fraud incidents reported to the SAFPS came from South Africa’s economic heartland. This was followed by Kwa ZuluNatal, which made up 17% of the incidents reported to the SAFPS, and the Western Cape, which made up 8% of the incidents reported to the SAFPS.

“As you can see, there is a significant increase in the fraud landscape,” says Van Schalkwyk. “We cannot stand by and continue to take a reactive stance when it comes to combatting fraud. The SAFPS had recently launched two platforms which will significantly change the narrative when shifting the pressure from consumers to fraudsters.”

The first platform is Yima, a website that consumers can use to report scams. Additionally, users can use Yima to determine whether a website they want to visit is a genuine website or a proxy website. Finally, users can tell their stories and read about the stories of other victims.

The growth of social media has also become a major hotbed of fraud, with many issuing serious warnings when conducting retail business with third-party sellers (as is the case with platforms such as Facebook Marketplace). While this is a challenge, it cannot be ignored in the future as these platforms will generate $1-trillion of income over the next five years. Realizing the importance of online marketplaces, and the threat of fraud, the SAFPS has through its subsidiary company, Secure Citizen, developed the functionality for individuals to validate other sellers when performing a transaction, thereby minimising the threat of fraud.

“Secure citizen and Yima will completely change the narrative regarding fraud prevention. In addition, users will also have access to the SAFPS products, which have been offering consumers protection against fraud for some time now,” says Van Schalkwyk.

Protective Registration

Protective Registration is a free service protecting individuals against future fraud. Consumers apply for this service, and the SAFPS alerts its members to take additional care when dealing with that individual’s details. Protective Registration provides an added layer of protection and peace of mind regardless of whether the applicant’s identity has been compromised.

Victim Fraud Registration

Through Fraud Victim Registration, the SAFPS will assist applicants in preventing fraud resulting from identity theft and impersonation. This will protect applicants from associated financial implications. In addition, the SAFPS will issue applicants with a Victim of Impersonation Letter, which they can share with future credit providers to assist in any verification processes.