Data breach affecting 1.4 million South Africans highlights importance of ID protection

Published Sep 23, 2021


Criminals are moving online: the latest in a string of cybercrime attacks was against the Department of Justice, and this week it came to light that consumer and personal information of more than 1.4 million South Africans from various banks and financial institutions is suspected to have been illegally accessed from the servers of debt recovery firm Debt-IN Consultants, in April this year.

The breach became apparent when it was discovered that confidential consumer data and voice recordings of calls between Debt-IN debt recovery agents and financial services customers had been posted on hidden internet sites that are only accessible by a specialised web browser.

“This is a classic example of what we are seeing in the current environment,” says Dalene Deale, executive head of Secure Citizen, a platform created in collaboration with the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) that uses biometrics for identity verification between business and client.

“Fraudsters do not discriminate. As we move towards the adoption of a digital and more importantly ‘touchless’ era, the platform for fraud increases. Fraud is a fraudster’s business and they often use the same business tactics we use in legitimate business, the difference being that they don’t have customers, they have victims. Thanks to an increase in data breaches, fraudsters are motivated and armed with the correct information, meaning that they are very capable of impersonating an individual. The impacts of this are catastrophic,” Deale says.

Manie van Schalkwyk, chief executive of SAFPS, says it is estimated that 17 billion cyber attacks take place around the world every day. He says the Debt-IN data breach is concerning because the records of 1.4 million South Africans have been compromised. “In a country where identity fraud is common practice, this is extremely concerning. It is critical that consumers act now before significant fraud is unknowingly committed on their behalf,” Van Schalkwyk says.

Once criminals have access to this information, they use it to commit identity fraud. This affects companies who need to know that the person at the other end of a transaction is the actual consumer and not an impersonator.

“The objective of Secure Citizen is to enable businesses and individuals to interact in a trusted and easy manner. In South Africa we are fortunate to have an established identity system governed by the Department of Home Affairs, but many individuals do not participate in the digital economy. Our aim is to drive digital inclusivity, which underpins and enables financial inclusion,” Van Schalkwyk says.

One of the most important services, and the core of SAFPS’s service offering, is Protective Registration. Protective Registration is a free service protecting you against identity theft.

“If a member of the public wants to become proactive in the fight against fraud, the SAFPS is there to serve them. Visit our website on Click on the fraud prevention tab and protect yourself against identity theft with Protective Registration. For best results, use your smartphone to go to our website. Once you have uploaded key pieces of information, you will add another layer of protection against potential ID fraud,” says Van Schalkwyk.


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