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Cellphone Snatching on the Rise

Ann Cloete, Aon South Africa

It’s not just the phone, but all your personal data stored on it that criminals want

Opportunistic crime is on the rise and so is the trend of cellphone snatching Brazen criminals are willing to risk life and limb to snatch a R20k smart phone and make off with it – phones left on tables right next to you in restaurants, in vehicles hooked up to car kits, peeping out of back pockets, and even while in use and against your ear – its all fair game to criminals who will accost anyone to get their hands on a smartphone payday.

Criminals look for soft, distracted targets who are not paying attention to their surroundings, and usually strike at lighting speed, snatching the phone from your hands and then disappearing into a waiting car for a quick getaway. 

With a booming illicit market for these stolen goods, insurance brokers and risk advisors, Aon South Africa is warning consumers to be extra careful and vigilent, and to keep phones out of sight and safely stored away when not in use. Besides the theft of the phone, the big concern is that criminals are equally interested in the valuable personal data stored on the device. 

“Criminals typically snatch your phone while you are busy on it and the phone is unlocked, giving them full access to everything on your cell phone. This includes banking apps, delivery services and any other personal information that can be used for fraud, such as a copy of your ID, bank statements, proof of residence in addition to full access to your e-mail and SIM card. Even if you have security measures in place, such as fingerprint readers or facial recognition software, criminals can bypass these measures in seconds, gain access to your information and then make your phone disappear on the illicit cell phone market.” explains Ann Cloete from Aon South Africa.

“There are many ways that criminals can access and use the personal data stored on your mobile device – from viewing all your personal data, where you live, to social engineering to obtain sensitive data and duping others into thinking they are transacting with you, to phishing and SIM swops, to conning you into thinking you are dealing with a legitimate service provider and compromising your passwords and pins,” says Ann. 

Aon provides the following tips to mitigate and manage your risk as far as possible:

  • Avoid becoming a victim of cellphone snatching as far as possible – hide your device inside your bag or jacket, never ‘walk and talk’ while out in public as this makes you an easy and distracted target. Leave messages, whatsapps and news feeds until you are at home or work and in a safe place to view and respond to these. Never leave your phone unattended or on a table in view of criminals. Stay off your phone in the car and put your phone away and out of sight.
  • Inform your bank – If your phone is stolen, immediately contact your bank to secure your accounts and cards and deactivate your banking app. Confirm with your bank any next steps, should the criminals gain access to your account.
  • Freeze your contract – Contact your mobile service provider and freeze your cell phone account and block your sim card to stop data usage and any phone calls from your cell phone, which has the potential to be a pricy added cost that you would be responsible for. Blacklist your phone with your mobile service provider.
  • Safeguard personal documents – If your device contains any personal information such as your identity details, proof of residence and any other sensitive information, make contact with the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) via phone (0860 101 248), email or online. Any fraudulent activity on your account could affect your credit rating and could even get you blacklisted, which is why it will be wise to contact the Credit Ombudsman if you fall victim to fraudulent activities to resolve disputes.
  • Change Passwords – make a list of all applications, e-mail and social media accounts that you have on your phone and change the password to each of these. It will greatly assist in narrowing any fraudulent activity using your cell phone. 
  • Notify family and friends – Let your family and friends know that your cell phone has been compromised and to not entertain any requests from individuals fronting as you – known as social engineering.   

When it comes to your mobile phone and personal data, it’s also essential to make sure you are covered from both a financial and insurance perspective:.

Insure correctly for the replacement of your phone – cell phone cover normally falls under your household content ‘All Risks’ cover.  Make sure your mobile devices and those of your family members are specified under your All risks cover of your policy right down down to the make, model and serial number. Insure you phone for the replacement value – many people are shocked to find out that their ‘contract’ phone will set them back R20-R30k if they had to replace it with a cash purchase. Also, make a point of updating your insurance if you receive a new handset.   

Some insurance policies also include cover for the mechanical and electrical breakdown of cell phones such as cracked screens, water damage and touch screen or camera damage. If you have specified your phone on your insurance policy, it will be covered not only for theft or less, but for accidental damage too.  

Funds Protect – If you have a bank account and transact online, it is critical to protect your funds. Aon’s ‘Funds Protect’ solution (brought to you by Phishield UMA (Pty) Ltd and underwritten by Bryte Insurance Company Limited) covers you for loss from an account in your name as a result of a funds transfer that is irrecoverable from your financial institution or a third party. The cover is specifically designed to cover you for funds that are transferred out of your account, whether the loss from your account was authorised or unauthorised. It is especially handy if you’ve been duped into making a payment yourself or if someone gains access to your device. 

The cover provided by a personal Funds Protect policy will trigger in the event of:

  • Email interception fraud
  • Transactions due to your stolen identity
  • EFT/deposit scams
  • Hacking /phishing/vishing attacks
  • Demands for ransomware attacks, denial of service attacks, etc
  • Fraudulent invoices
  • Sim Swap fraud
  • EFT Fraud
  • Online banking fraud
  • Online shopping fraud
  • Holiday scams
  • Fake classified adverts
  • Bogus property rentals

“It is vital to contact your bank immediately should your phone be snatched or stolen in order to stop all transactions. Make sure that you have purchased enough Funds Protect cover in order to mitigate the full financial loss as the banks are not likely to reimbuse any transactions related to theft of a cellphone. For example, if you have purchased R25 000 Funds Protect cover but all your bank accounts are accessed, your losses could amount to much more than R25 000 and potentially be financially crippling. Funds Protect cover is relatively inexpensive for what it provides and will be a lifeline in the event of a loss of funds,” Ann explains.  

“Your cell phone is the equivalent of a bank card that could provide full access to all your funds in the wrong hands. Add to that the volumes of personal and sensitive data stored on your phone that could be used to commit fraud against you, and it soon becomes very clear that mitigating your risk of cellphone theft is crucially important. If you are unfortunate and become a victim of such a crime, make sure that your insurance cover is up to the task of protecting you from the fallout that could come from your compromised personal data, as well as replace your device to get you connected again,” concludes Ann.







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