Cyber fraud is reaching new highs in SA – and it's the apps on your phone putting you at risk

Business Insider SA
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed people to work remotely, shop online, and generally spend more time on the internet than before.
  • That's opened more opportunities for cybercriminals, especially in South Africa, where fraud detection and prevention approaches are weak.
  • Mobile payment methods have become a target for cyber fraudsters.
  • Losses incurred through third-party apps have seen the biggest increase and now account for almost a third of mobile fraud costs.
  • For more stories go to

Incidents of cyber fraud impacting South African businesses and consumers are growing at a rapid rate, with mobile payment channels becoming especially lucrative for criminals.

The Covid-19 pandemic spurred global digitisation. More shoppers went online as brick-and-mortar stores shuttered. Workers adopted video communication software to connect with their jobs while offices remained empty in favour of remote work.

This surge in internet activity emboldened cyber criminals, with companies struggling to stay one step ahead in securing systems while employees worked from home. And although cash is still king in South Africa, the rise in digital payment methods, coinciding with the e-commerce boom, has also opened consumers to more complex fraud risks.

Fraudsters now have more opportunities, thanks to this swift digital transformation, according to the latest LexisNexis True Cost of Fraud Study. These risks are especially prevalent in South Africa, according to results of the survey, which queried financial services and retail merchants across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

The total amount of costs related to fees, interest, merchandise replacement, and redistribution per dollar of fraud for which the merchant is held liable is used to determine the LexisNexis Fraud Multiplier.

The latest LexisNexis Fraud Multiplier for South Africa has increased by 41.5% compared to 2019 – more than Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates – and is higher than the EMEA average.

The average transaction volume via mobile channels in South Africa has almost tripled since 2019, according to LexisNexis. Payments processed through digital or mobile wallets represent a similar share of transaction volumes as credit or debit cards. The use of third-party apps – those created by someone other than the manufacturer of a mobile device or its operating system – has almost doubled.

Fraud costs associated with mobile channels have soared. Losses incurred through third-party mobile apps have seen the biggest increase and now account for almost a third of fraud costs within the mobile channel. Fraud through mobile web browsers still accounts for the largest share.

"Fraud has become more expensive for businesses in part because the volume of both human and bot-originated fraud continues to target transactions at scale," said Jason Lane-Sellers, director of fraud and identity EMEA, LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

"The other side of the story is that consumer transaction habits are changing, and cybercriminals are adapting to these behavioural patterns. With more consumers using a variety of channels to transact, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for businesses wanting to authenticate digital identities and reduce fraud losses."

Fraud detection and prevention approaches in South Africa also lag far behind the EMEA average. Just 21% of South African merchants and financial institutions have fully integrated their digital customer experience operations with fraud prevention, which is the lowest rate among all other regions surveyed. 

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