By Trevor Damon, Head of Fraud Strategy, Absa Regional Operations

01 February 2021

Cybercriminals and fraudsters never take a rest and neither should you. As our world becomes more digitally focused each day, vigilance and education are key to staying safe and secure.

The impact of COVID-19 has wrecked many lives, economies, and brought about changes that many of us would not have anticipated in our lifetime. However, there have also been positives. We have learnt to value what we have, to appreciate the little things in life.

COVID-19 has also accelerated the adoption of digital technologies, with meetings that would previously have been face-to-face now being held over a plethora of online platforms that offer virtual meeting rooms. The phrase "you're on mute" probably captures 2020 and the technological change that it necessitated better than any other.

We also used technologies such as video calling and messaging apps to stay in touch with family and friends, schooling, work, and shop. This shift to online living has not gone unnoticed by cybercriminals, who have upped their tactics to try and swindle money out of unsuspecting consumers. Untold damage has been done by cyber hackers, who show they have neither ethics nor morals and attacked as many institutions as possible, including even hospitals and vaccine manufacturers.

Part of living in an increasingly connected and digital world is understanding that our private information is more vulnerable and that incidents of cyber-crime are no longer isolated events but occur daily.

People and companies are being attacked through seemingly simple, yet vital, applications such as email, with phishing attacks continuing to be an issue, even though this is a relatively primitive form of cyber assault.

The passing of 2020 does not mean that the criminally minded will ease up. We must be more vigilant than ever about what information we share, primarily online. 2020 saw a surge in cyber-attacks, and these are expected to continue into 2021 and beyond as our digital and online presence and reach continues to grow.

So, what can consumers do to avoid becoming the victim of a cyber-attack?

Vigilance is key

Vigilance remains an essential defence, and we should never let our guard down; always be alert and conscious. We often become complacent around major holidays, such as the recent festive season, purchasing back-to-school necessities or during upcoming calendar events like Valentine's Day, and when we are under pressure to get shopping done quickly and cheaply.

The reality is that fraudsters and cyber-criminals never rest. They are incredibly opportunistic and always evolving their tactics.

Another vital protection method is education and awareness of risks. Although banks provide tips to merchants on how to avoid becoming victims, retailers need to play their part in education, while consumers must assume greater responsibility for the protection of their personal information.

Take, for example, when shopping online; malware and phishing sites are set up with the sole intention of tricking consumers into thinking they are making a purchase through a legitimate website, but the fake site will steal login details and empty bank accounts faster than you can get on the phone to your bank.

An email will often land with what looks like a link to a legitimate website, such as popular online retailers. However, that link has been spoofed, and it directs people to a fake site, which often looks real, but isn't.

In an effort to create awareness around some of the typical hacks that consumers most fall prey to, Absa created these videos to show how easily consumers can fall prey to a cyber-attack without even realising it. https://www.absa.africa/absaafrica/about-us/cyber-security/

So, what should you do?

  • Don't click on links in emails, instead type in the address
  • Look out for mistakes in design, such as a logo that doesn't match that of the real company
  • Look for the padlock to indicate a secure website. This looks like the padlock you would use to secure a gate
  • A secure website should have the URL "Https."
  • Avoid websites asking for personal information. If in doubt, contact your bank directly.
  • Avoid doing online banking or shopping in public places like internet café’s as these are high risk type venues which can leave you vulnerable to data breaches and online fraud

Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication can be enabled on your device, and many banks offer their customers this type of security to strengthen authentication.   This means that, in addition to logging into a secure site and providing your bank account details, your bank will ask you to verify a transaction through either a one-time pin or the banking app. Absa uses a number of security mechanisms to increase customers’ online banking security and to prevent online identity theft and other threats. These include, among others, Advanced Encryption Software and 3D Secure.

Absa offers identity theft alerts on customers’ credit profile and consumers can also enquire with their local credit providers as to whether they offer this service so that they are informed when credentials are used without authorisation.

Where a customer has fallen victim of a cyber-attack, they should immediately report the incident to their bank. The bank will usually launch an investigation and attempt to try and recover the lost funds. However, if the loss is because of an action on the consumer, such as falling for a phishing scam, the bank is usually not liable, although banks will likely look into each case on merit.

To avoid the paperwork and pain that comes with fraud cases, which no one wants to deal with under the best of circumstances, never mind during a global pandemic, stay vigilant and always check out all the security details on websites.

And as the adage goes, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.