In his fourth field diary, Yoti Digital Identity Fellow Tshepo Magoma is warning about the alarming number of scams that have tried to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. Magoma called particular attention to the province of the Western Cape, which has accounted for 59,315 of the 132,000 positive cases in the country.
Unlike other parts of South Africa, citizens in the Western Cape have been relatively quick to adopt South Africa’s national Smart ID Card. The problem is that fraudsters have become more cunning in their efforts to obtain people’s personal information, especially as the coronavirus continues to ripple through the community. For example, the Western Cape has launched massive testing programs in an effort to track the spread of the virus, so fraudsters have posed as medical professionals to trick people into handing over their personal information.
Criminals have enacted similar scams to capitalize on the province’s widespread unemployment, which now sits at 20.4 percent. Fraudsters will pretend to be representatives from HR departments and convince people to submit sensitive financial information as part of the application process for a job that does not exist.
Those efforts have paid dividends for financial criminals. South Africans have discovered an increasing number of fraudulent transactions during the pandemic, with many people receiving large bills from companies and services that they have never used. Companies have become more willing to allow customers to open accounts online rather than in person, and are often not taking the proper steps to verify the identities of their customers.
Magoma indicated that the threat of identity theft is rampant throughout the province. Some criminals will sort through the trash to find old identity documents that should have been shredded, while several civic employees have been arrested for their involvement in various passport and import scams.
According to Magoma, some South Africans are hoping that biometrics will help curb the high rates of identity and new account fraud. The provincial government is now trying to educate citizens about steps they can take to keep their personal information safe.