Photos are passed back and forth until the member obtains sufficiently compromising photos of their victim. Photo: File
Some terror groups have been targeting South Africans to finance their criminal acts through romance scams.
According to the SA Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric), the fraudsters will use a fake identity to connect with a potential victim on a dating site. The information centre is a nonprofit entity formed by the big four banks and aimed at assisting the banking and cash in transit industries to combat organised bank-related crimes.
On Monday, Sabric CEO Nischal Mewalall warned that:
The photos used are always of actual people, such as unknown but very attractive models or actors whose profile pictures have been illegally lifted off other social media platforms. After first contact, the member quickly talks the victim into using an external email or chat service outside of the dating site.
Mewalall’s warning is contained in the 2021 annual report that once the victim’s trust has been gained, photos are passed back and forth until the member obtains sufficiently compromising photos of their victim.
“The victim is then contacted by either the same or a different member of the terrorist group and told that if they do not agree to pay a ransom, the images will be placed on social media or made available to friends, family or an employer. A bank account number is provided, the victim pays, and the money is withdrawn. Victims of these scams are naturally reluctant to admit that someone they have fallen for has betrayed their confidence. While it is concerning that romance scams have affected many victims in South Africa, of even greater concern is the involvement of terrorist groups to generate illicit sources of income to fund their terror activities,” he said.
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Mewalall said that, in addition to terrorist financing, romance scams are also used by fraudsters to launder the illicit proceeds of crime. In some of the cases, victims agree to assist their supposed sweetheart to transfer an inheritance payout or funds for an important business deal.
“This modus operandi abuses the victim’s trust, but, more concerningly, sets them up to become a money mule. The victim believes that they are being helpful, but what they are really doing is laundering stolen funds,” he said.
Mewalall added that, although the use of romance scams is nothing new, it is not limited to opportunistic fraudsters but also used by terrorist groups to generate illicit flows of funds. In the year in review, the impact of crime on banked customers continued with the onslaught of phishing and unrest, which resulted in damage to banking infrastructure.
“These relentless attacks leveraged data, social media and technology, making it even more difficult to spot fraudsters’ efforts to convince customers to give away their PINs, account numbers, OTPs and ID numbers. The effectiveness of these attacks resulted in a 42% increase in all digital banking crimes occurring on banking applications. The year also saw an increase in gross fraud losses for South African-issued credit and debit cards.”
Mewalall said another concern had been the rise in the robbery of bank customers at branches before deposits; this phenomenon increased by 56%.
“To respond to these and other crimes, Sabric concluded the industry’s first integrated crime threat assessment that will give rise to prioritised threat mitigation plans.”
He explained that, to enhance the banking industry’s response to ongoing data breaches, their members had implemented their first industry protocol to coordinate information sharing, communication and proactive engagements linked to data breach events.
“Initiatives that support the SAPS [SA Police Serviceto enable them to carry out cyber forensic analysis in criminal investigations, and Sabric’s public awareness communication.”
Mewalall said the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng had also had a negative impact on the banking sector.
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“Protests are often peaceful but when they turn violent, they lead to the destruction of property, including bank branches, ATMs, cash centres and data warehouses. Law enforcement and security services faced numerous challenges in maintaining law and order during the protests, culminating in the orchestrated civil uprising which resulted in mass looting, unrest and violence that lasted eight days,” he said.
Mewalall said the unrest had resulted in an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination between banks, cash in transit companies, the private security industry and the SA Police Service to preserve and protect banking employees and infrastructure.