In recent years, synthetic identity theft has become a significant concern in South Africa. This sophisticated form of fraud involves criminals creating fake identities by combining real personal details with fabricated information. The rise in data breaches and technological advancements has only exacerbated this issue. 

What is Synthetic Identity Theft? 

Synthetic identity theft is when fraudsters blend real and fake identifying information to create a new, false identity. For instance, a real ID number might be paired with a fabricated name, date of birth, and address. This false identity can then be used to commit various fraudulent activities, from opening bank accounts to securing loans. 

The Alarming Rise in Fraud Cases 

Jerry Chetty, the head of business integrity at Santam, has highlighted a worrying increase in identity theft cases. He notes that fraudsters are quick to adopt new technologies, leveraging them to carry out sophisticated scams. Personal information such as ID numbers, bank account details, contact numbers, addresses, and retail account information are prime targets for these criminals. 

One striking example of the damage caused by synthetic identity theft involved a finance staff member at a multinational company who was tricked into transferring over $25 million (approximately R450 million) to fraudsters. This was achieved using a highly realistic fake video of the company’s CFO. 

The Broader Impact of Digital Identity Fraud 

The 2024 Digital Identity Fraud in Africa Report sheds light on the growing issue of digital identity fraud across the continent. According to the report, the rate of such fraud has increased every year since 2019, with a notable 17% rise in biometric and document fraud by the end of 2023. This trend underscores the continuous evolution of fraud tactics. 

The Challenges of Detection and Prevention 

Detecting synthetic identity theft is challenging and often takes considerable time. By the time these fraudulent activities are discovered, victims have usually suffered significant damage. Rectifying the situation is a lengthy and arduous process, emphasizing the need for vigilance and awareness. 

Protecting Your Information 

In today’s digital age, it is crucial to be cautious about sharing personal information, especially on public platforms. Data breaches have made personal information more accessible on the dark web, providing fraudsters with opportunities to enhance and exploit these data sets. This has led to various scams, including vehicle financing fraud, investment scams, and false retail accounts. 

Fraudsters also use social engineering tactics, relying on psychological manipulation to trick victims into revealing confidential information. The insurance industry, including companies like Santam, is continuously monitoring these emerging risks. Fraudsters often pose as clients or brokers to obtain policyholder information, making it essential to stay vigilant. 

Tips to Safeguard Your Information 

With fraudsters constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities, it’s essential to adopt practices that help safeguard your data. Here are some tips to help you stay secure: 

  • Verify Requests: Always verify and authenticate any request for your personal information, no matter how genuine it seems. Contact the organization or individual directly to confirm the request. 
  • Guard Identifiable Information: Never share sensitive information, such as your ID number, bank account details, or personal identifiers, with strangers or unverified sources. 
  • Careful Document Handling: Take extra caution when storing or disposing of documents that contain personal information. Shred any documents you no longer need. 
  • Cautious Clicking: Be cautious when clicking on links in emails, text messages, or online. Ensure the source is trustworthy before clicking. 
  • Register as a Protective Victim: If you suspect your personal information has been compromised, register with the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS). This free service helps protect victims of identity theft. 
  • Leverage Netsweeper’s Solutions: Utilize Netsweeper’s advanced web filtering and cybersecurity solutions to help identify and block malicious sites that may be used by fraudsters to gather personal information. Netsweeper can provide an additional layer of protection by monitoring and restricting access to potentially harmful online content. 

By staying informed, vigilant, and using advanced security tools, you can better protect your personal information from fraudsters and the growing threat of synthetic identity theft.