Surge in smartphone banking raises concerns over kidnapping safety in South Africa

In the wake of an alarming surge in daily kidnappings, South Africa’s financial landscape is grappling with the implications of smartphone banking. With an upsurge in digital transactions, experts warn that the very security measures designed to safeguard users could potentially prolong hostage crises. As criminals adapt to these evolving payment methods, the need for heightened vigilance is underscored. Financial advisor Paul Roelofse advocates for stringent device protection, emphasising the protective prowess of digital payment platforms in the face of such threats.

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40 kidnappings a day raise concern over smartphone banking safety

By Hanno Labuschagne

A financial expert has pointed out that the increased use of cellphone-based payments like digital wallets could lead to prolonged hostage situations — ironically due to the additional security measures they provide.

The South African Police Service recently revealed that 3,641 kidnapping cases were reported to its stations between April and June 2023. That works out to 40 kidnappings per day.

Fidelity CEO Wahl Bartmann also warned that kidnappers increasingly targeted ordinary South Africans in “express kidnappings”.

These kidnappings involve motorists getting hijacked, held at gunpoint, and driven to an ATM in their car or another vehicle, where they are forced to withdraw cash.

“They are then also robbed of valuables before being left at an isolated location,” Bartmann explained.

Financial planner Paul Roelofse has highlighted that the rise in digital cellphone-based payments could add to the time a victim is kidnapped.

Banks in South Africa have increasingly encouraged the adoption of digital payment methods.

This includes linking cards on a smartphone or smartwatch for contactless (tap) or QR-code payments instead of physical cards or cash.

Smartwatch with Samsung Pay

All of South Africa’s major banks support third-party digital wallets like Apple Pay, Fitbit Pay, Garmin Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. Some also offer their own tap-to-pay systems.

These services allow users to link a physical or virtual card to an NFC-enabled smartphone or smartwatch and make payments with that card by tapping their phone.

Aside from making it more convenient to pay by allowing you to leave your wallet in the home or car, these payment methods can also provide extra security as they require that users enable the strongest security features of their devices.

Many also have built-in QR scan-to-pay features, which can be used with apps like Snapscan and Zapper.

Kidnappers will need more time to steal your money

The growing adoption of these digital payment features might lead to more situations where a kidnapped person does not have a card or cash on their person.

Many criminals, becoming increasingly aware of this, will likely adapt their approach to ensure they can still deprive their victims of their money.

Roelofse told Talk 702 that although he believed digital payment solutions were still better than physical cards, it was important to be aware of their risks.

Whereas a criminal might previously only have taken a person’s physical card and cash and then let them go, they now require them to be around for longer.

This might be for providing biometrics — like a face scan or fingerprint — or entering a PIN or password.

“If you are with a phone, the kidnapper is going to want to keep you there, especially if you have got all these new security layers,” Roelofse said.

However, Roelofse emphasised that using digital payments meant victims were much less likely to suffer financial damage.

“While mobile banking apps may indeed raise safety concerns in regions prone to kidnapping, leveraging mobile payment services like Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay can provide a secure and convenient alternative to physical cards,” Roelofse said.

“These services, fortified with tokenisation and encryption, offer an elevated level of protection against potential financial threats.”

Roelofse stressed that if people used their cellphones for banking and payments, it was imperative to set a strong, unique passcode or enable biometric security measures to safeguard their device.

The less hardened criminals — like pickpockets and opportunistic unarmed burglars — will then be unable to access your phone’s sensitive information and apps.

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This article was first published by MyBroadBand and is republished with permission