Fraud, identity theft and impersonation are three of the most significant risks South Africans face in an already stressful environment caused by the country’s energy crisis, a growing cost of living/unemployment crisis, and constant news about political instability.
Dalene Deale, Executive Head of Secure Citizen, points out that the desperation South Africans face daily has made them prime targets for fraudsters.
“Unfortunately, human beings only have one emotional bucket, which can be rapidly depleted when dealing with fraud, identity theft and impersonation. Resolving the issue becomes all-consuming as they face an uphill battle to reclaim what is rightfully theirs,” says Deale.
The gift that keeps on giving
Deale recounts her personal ordeal dealing with a case of stolen identity.
When Deale wanted to upgrade her daughter’s phone as a surprise birthday present, the representative told Deale that the account had already been upgraded at Cavendish Square in Cape Town a week earlier.
“I denied this and asked them to show me the upgrade-related paperwork I supposedly completed when upgrading the device. I didn’t even live in Cape Town at the time, and there I was, looking at a picture of the person who stole my identity. What transpired after this discovery was shocking. They had stolen my ID number and my bank accounts. In addition, they had performed two upgrades under my name and opened multiple clothing accounts where they spent a lot of money,” says Deale.
She said that every time a vendor chased her for money she did not spend, she had to physically go to a police station and open another case of theft. “This is traumatic for any person to deal with. We need to become proactive when fighting fraud,” says Deale.
Enhanced protection for individuals
The Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) and other industry stakeholders have been working hard to develop Secure Citizen. This platform will be a game changer for fraud prevention.
Secure Citizen is a platform accessed via the Internet or a mobile app whereby individuals can create an official online persona. By doing this, an individual is able to secure their identity. “Our research shows that identity theft has grown by more than 300% over the past year. This is concerning and highlights the need for Secure Citizen to offer protection for individuals. In addition, the fact that this is a free service makes it very enticing,” says Manie van Schalkwyk, CEO of the SAFPS.
“When an individual registers with Secure Citizen, the first step involves verifying their facial biometrics against the Department of Home Affairs. Secure Citizen makes sure it is dealing with the right person. The simple act of claiming your identity, especially as a previous victim of identity theft, added immense value to me personally. Secure Citizen uses biometric identifiers that are unique to that individual. The process enables citizens to create a digital identity that they can secure and manage. This allows the individual to fundamentally change how companies verify them when they engage in transactions where personal information is shared. Simultaneously, the individual will receive alerts when their identity is being verified through Secure Citizen. Many well-known brands are leading the charge on this proactive fraud prevention solution. Secure Citizen is engaging the private and public sector daily to drive digital identity interoperability,” says Deale.
She added that this is free to consumers and an essential step in the fight against fraud, as all measures in the past were reactive. “By then, the damage is done,” points out Deale.
A hotbed of fraud
Secure Citizen is not only changing the game regarding individuals interacting with companies. There are also significant benefits when individuals interact with each other.
Statistics from the SAFPS point out that online third-party retail platforms (such as Facebook Marketplace) are hotbeds regarding fraud. Yet, these platforms will only grow in the future. Facebook and Facebook Marketplace attract over 2.91 billion users monthly, around 35% of the world’s population. In addition, $26 billion in gross revenue was made on Facebook Marketplace in 2021(an increase of 48% from 2020). Other statistics indicate that South Africa’s e-commerce sector will only grow and will be worth over R400-billion by 2025, most of which will take place on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace.
“We need to change the narrative on these platforms. In future, an individual will be able to verify the identity of a seller through Secure Citizen. If the information doesn’t match up, the transaction can be cancelled,” says Deale.
She adds that Secure Citizen even allows individuals to verify the identity of other citizens you allow into your personal space, such as electricians, nannies or plumbers, without sharing sensitive information. If both individuals have biometrically verified against the Department of Home Affairs, Secure Citizen helps facilitate person-to-person verification. This can even reduce the risk of online dating.
Owning your data
One of the concerns that many citizens have is when they supply companies with personal data, is it stored safely and securely?
“It is important to note that the individual owns their biometric data. Secure Citizen does not own it, nor does SAFPS or any companies registered with Secure Citizen. The Protection of Private Information Act (POPIA) clearly states that personal information remains the individual’s property. Through Secure Citizen, individuals will also be able to take responsibility to ensure that their information at the Department of Home Affairs is correct without needing to add load to the Department of Home Affairs call centre,” says Deale.
Companies have been collecting personal data in the past, such as ID numbers. However, there was always the chance that this would be sold to the highest bidder. The collection and storage of personal data changed with the enactment of POPIA.
The individual is the actual identity holder. Secure Citizen is trying to close that gap between citizens and the businesses that are required to be regulatory compliant (in terms of POPIA). In the future, Secure Citizen will ensure that companies can verify they’re dealing with the right person, and individuals can play an active role in changing how fraudsters exploit their information. “When we close that gap, we are removing friction from the consumer and creating friction for the fraudster,” says Deale.
Secure Citizen is now available through www.securecitizen.app or the mobile app, which is currently available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store platforms.