Mobile and Internet banking fraud is on the rise in Southern Africa and is threatening to derail the progress that has so far been made to revolutionize banking services in the region.
Zambia and South Africa, especially, have been experiencing an increase in mobile and Internet banking fraud, resulting in millions of dollars in losses.
Officials in both Zambia and South Africa are warning banks they should not compromise on security in light of the increased risks. A new report for banking services compiled by the Ombudsman for Banking Services in South Africa has revealed an increase of 8 percent in mobile fraud and 3 percent in Internet banking fraud cases in the country.
"There has never been a greater need for security and control in the banking environment than currently because of the rise in Internet banking fraud," the report said. It added that banks have a duty to commit to the country's code of banking practices, which calls for a secure and reliable banking and payment system.
No report has been produced in Zambia on cybercrime levels in the country but the Bankers Association of Zambia (BAZ) has warned banks about an increase in cybercrime and urged them to put precautionary measures in place.
A number of local and international banks in Zambia have reported phishing attacks on their Internet banking systems, and in some cases they have been forced to temporarily close branches to protect customers' money.
Africa is experiencing an explosion of mobile money services as banks and mobile service providers compete for customers who would otherwise not have a bank account. This has increased phishing attacks on unsuspecting customers, in an effort to lure them to fake sites.
Banks in the region are encouraged by the growing mobile customer base to launch innovative payment options to reach millions of the so-called "unbanked." But that is putting citizens more at risk of cybercrime. In South Africa, for example, there are more than 13 million unbanked people, while in Zambia, 60 percent of the population is currently unbanked.
The problem has further been compounded by the fact that very few banks in the region that provide Internet banking services are also able to offer security software to curb cybersecurity attacks.
Cybercrime in the region is said to have increased following the lowering of bandwidth and connectivity costs as mobile service providers and international cables compete for customers.
In Zambia, the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country's telecom sector regulator, claims it has managed to reduce Internet cost by more than 700 percent.
ZICTA chairperson Gertrude Akapelwa-Euheni said, "the overall goal of ZICTA was to achieve greater Internet penetration."
Like many other countries in the Southern Africa region, in Zambia a 1GB Internet package now costs as low as US$23, down from as high as $130 just some three years ago.
"What has added to the problem in addition to the reduction in Internet cost is that phishing kits can now be easily acquired while cybercriminals no longer need to be highly trained to be able to use phishing kits or technology," said Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development.
Over the past few years, the Southern African region has been trying to harmonize cyberlaws to deal with cross-border criminals by allowing member countries to prosecute cybercriminals wherever the crime was committed in the region.
However, progress has been slow in several countries.