Frank Abagnale’s life as a conman and fraudster was depicted in the film Catch Me If You Can, but he has spent close to 40 years, since the age of 26, working for the FBI as a consultant to prevent fraudulent crimes. Crimes committed today are 5000 times easier to do than they were 50 years ago.
Online fraud, identity theft and cybercrime are rising and prevalent in 79% of surveyed organisations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Cybercrime costs the global economy more than $400bn (R5.1tr).
These criminals are not looking for a challenge, but rather an opportunity to attack the weakest link. This is according to International expert on fraud, identity theft and securities, Frank Abagnale, who spoke at the Experian Insight Conference held on 4 August at the Maslow Hotel. Over the years he has seen crime evolve as cyber technology was introduced.
Every security breach in companies and government offices Abagnale has worked on in the past 20 years occurred because someone did not do what they were supposed to, he says. “I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.” Human error by employees opens doors for hackers. For this reason, Abagnale stresses the importance of education to fight crime.
I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.
Companies should educate their employees on the importance of their jobs and protecting the information entrusted to them. “They are smart enough to do something about it, but they need to know.” Abagnale works with Experian to develop solutions and educate corporate customers and employees about fraud prevention. Education allows people to be proactive, staying ahead of fraudsters.
One of the solutions developed by Abagnale and Experian is the 41st parameter technology. This is a device authentication technology for customers transacting online or electronically. Over 100 parameters are used during the verification process, this is beyond the 40 parameters initially developed to identify individuals 20 years ago. It provides the intelligence to identify and validate any device interacting online whether it is a laptop, tablet or mobile device. The technology also detects malware that may intercept transactions.
As an emerging market, South Africa is one of the most targeted economies in the world for internet fraud. Internet penetration is increasing, but consumer education on the risks of transacting online is not as rapid. Fraudsters recognise and take a line of least resistance, says Michelle Beetar, Managing Director at Experian South Africa. Identity theft costs the South Africa almost R1bn a year, reported by the South African Fraud Prevention Association (SAFPS). Additionally research indicates that three in ten respondents surveyed in 2014 had been a victim of card fraud.
Abagnale and Beetar advise on ways consumers can protect their information:
1. Be discerning about the information shared on social media
Individuals should be wiser about the information they share. Giving away your date of birth and the location of your birth on Facebook gives the fraudster 98% of the capability to steal your identity. Fraudsters can read the information and resell it or misuse it.
Individuals should take care not to use “passport-style” profile pictures of themselves as facial recognition technology makes it easy for fraudsters to find you online. Rather pose for a picture with friends, or in a sport activity, or have the picture taken at an angle.
2. Keep a shredder
It is useful to have a shredder to discard phone bills, credit card and bank statements or any documents with personal details. Additionally, never save passwords on electronic devices.
3. Use a credit monitoring service
Having personally used one since the 90s, Abagnale uses the service to make sure no one else has used his name to make purchases. Subscribing to a credit monitoring service allows you to check your data as often as you want, and if you identify a breach you can report it to authorities. South Africans can view their credit reports for free, once a year. Individuals can also make use of an “alert” service, at a nominal fee, which will inform them via sms or email if something on their credit record has changed. You will immediately be aware if someone has tried to open an account in your name, or if someone is transacting in your name.
4. Do not write cheques
As often as you can, avoid writing cheques as they have personal details like your name, address, phone number and bank details. If a shop clerk has your identity number, it puts you at risk of identity theft
5. Protect your PC
Make sure your laptop or personal computer is equipped with firewalls and is protected with the most updated spyware or malware security. Security software comes at a nominal cost, but this is worth it relative to the cost of having your information stolen. Never click on hyperlinks, and always type out your bank or financial institution’s full web address or email.
Cybercrimes may be financial now, but the danger is that in the next five or 10 years, these crimes will evolve to terrorism and murders, says Abagnale. Currently, cybercriminals use stolen money to commit worse crimes like human trafficking, drug trafficking and child pornography. Technology breeds crime, he says. But technology can also be used to prevent crimes. “It is just a matter of doing the right thing and doing it ahead of time.”
This article was featured in Finweek magazine.