South African ID fraud tops continental list, study finds

South Africa’s green ID book is still valid and it has come out as the document most used for ID fraud, SUPPLIED

South Africa’s green ID book is still valid and it has come out as the document most used for ID fraud, SUPPLIED

Published Feb 18, 2024



AS Africa experiences an increased rate of fraud, experts say the past four years have been the worst, with identity fraud in South Africa topping the list.

The average document and biometric fraud rate has increased for six consecutive quarters since the second quarter of 2022, with fraudsters evolving towards biometric fraud, a January report by Smile ID found.

The report, titled “2024 Digital Fraud Identity In Africa”, found that rates reached a record high towards the end of last year, with 80% of ID fraud attacks concentrated on national identity documents. This, they said, made them the most exploited ID type.

The report, the first ever to focus specifically on fraud in Africa, looked at identity fraud methodologies, characteristics and impact across Africa. It also provided a guide to implementing a comprehensive anti-fraud system to protect individuals and organisations.

“Topping the list with the most fraud attempts is South Africa’s national ID at 38%,” it noted.

Smile ID’s research found that Tanzania followed South Africa with an ID fraud rate of 32%. Kenya had an ID fraud rate of 26%, Uganda 25% and Nigeria 18%.

Of the four regions – East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and southern Africa – Central and East Africa saw the highest rate of identity fraud in 2023.

“Both regions reached a peak of 29% and 30% respectively, while southern Africa peaked at 23%. West Africa had the lowest fraud rate, peaking at 20%.”

They also identified a trend, in which fraudulent activities increased in the afternoon, at around 6pm and peaked at 9pm. “Fraudsters were also more active on Mondays and Wednesdays.”

Identity theft and fraud occurs when one’s personal information is stolen and used without the owner’s knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. As the national identity document is the most widely used, identity theft has the potential to cost people their time and money, destroy their credit and ruin their good name.

Ranking countries with national IDs that have been used for the most fraud attempts, Smile ID’s report found that biometric fraud attempts during the first half of the year mainly targeted the national IDs of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. “These documentations were the three most frequently targeted types of IDs during the period.”

Nationally, in 2022 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported receiving 5.7 million fraud and identity theft reports, a quarter being related to identity theft.

“It is believed that identity theft is now costing the South African economy more than R1.5 billion per annum.

“Identity theft happens… it is an unfortunate fact of modern life,” said the FTC, and protecting one’s identity had to be an everyday event, just as people protected everything that was important to them.

“Just like buckling up in a car and looking both ways before crossing the road, making sure you know where your ID and other personal documents are being used must always be top of mind,” it said.

The older and newer identity documents held by South Africans can be used across many countries, despite the older green book being replaced by the card. SUPPLIED

And, Smile ID said, despite being replaced by the newer and improved smart ID card, the green book ID was yet to be completely phased out in South Africa.

“It is still held by many South Africans and is a legally accepted document. Before its replacement, the green book was already notorious for its susceptibility to fraud – one of the reasons cited as a need for its replacement.”

It found that the new South Africa smart ID card was five times less likely to be used for fraud than the green book, an indication that it was more secure.

Giving tips on how to protect one against identity fraud and theft, the FTC advises that it’s important to keep exact track of when bills and payment were made, to read credit score reports carefully, to get rid of documents containing confidential information properly by shredding them, and to go through bank and health statements with a fine tooth comb.

Other advice contained in international fraud and ID protection reports was that people had to create strong passwords and different passwords for every online account they had, including email, online banking, social media and retail websites. Individuals and organisations have also been cautioned to avoid using personal information in passwords and that includes names of family, school, pets and cars.

International reports also found that almost one-third of Americans had been a victim of identity theft, with over 300 000 of that country’s citizens falling victim to phishing/vishing/smishing attacks yearly. And identity theft victims in the US are most commonly aged between 30 and 39.

[email protected]