Contact financial crimes such as banking-related robberies fell 24% in 2020 given the movement restrictions and visible policing linked to Covid-19 lockdowns.
This is revealed in the latest annual crimes stats report by the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) released on Wednesday.
However, the report noted a spike in incidents of digital banking crime as online shopping and online payment systems have become popular in the wake of the pandemic.
Sabric says that criminals exploited Covid-19 to improve their efforts of scamming customers to steal their personal data and defraud them on digital and online platforms.
Fraud in digital banking surged 33%, according to the report.
“Covid-19, in conjunction with the implementation of regulations of the Disaster Management Act had a notable influence on financial crime trends in 2020. It triggered changes in human behaviour, human movement, and policing, creating new opportunities for criminals which significantly impacted the number of crime incidents,” Sabric says in its statement.
“While some crime types decreased, others increased as criminals exploited Covid-19,” it adds.
The report also showed an increase in debit card fraud, which was up 22%. This usually occurs when a criminal gains access to a customer’s debit card number and in some cases, their personal identification number to make unauthorised withdrawals or purchases.
Automated Teller Machine (ATM) explosive attacks also increased by 20%. As the report was for last year, it does not include the ATMs damaged during the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July.
Meanwhile, Sabric’s crime stats report also shows a decline in crimes such as credit card fraud (-7%) and (general) ATM attacks (-9%).
Cash-in-transit robberies significantly decreased when the country was in Level 5 of the lockdown in April and May 2020, however once restrictions were lifted, these increased again by 22% as criminals were able to move with fewer restrictions and fear of roadblocks and searches.
Commenting on the report and the spike in online banking crimes, Sabric CEO Nischal Mewalall says: “Your personal data, when combined with technology has become the new key to the safe that holds your money in a bank, so you must safeguard your data to prevent criminals getting access to your safe.”
He warns that cybercrime and data breaches will represent a significant threat to customers and banks in the future as even the best security and technology can now be compromised when criminals source and use legitimate data illegally to carry out a crime.
To avoid falling victim to digital banking fraud, Mewalall cautions bank customers from clicking on links in unsolicited emails as these links are used in phishing emails to drive people to “spoofed” websites that may look like legitimate online retailers, accompanied by enticing images and convincing taglines.
“Criminals use these bogus websites to harvest bank card details to make online purchases using your account. We are still seeing lots of scam’s advertising seemingly incredible deals for personal protective equipment, sanitiser and fake vaccines that exploit people’s concern for their health and safety,” Mewalall points out.