To start things off slowly, what is the definition of a cybercrime? According to Wikipedia, “Cybercrime is a crime that involves a computer and a network. The computer may have been used in the commission of a crime, or it may be the target. Cybercrime may harm someone’s security and financial health.” It goes without mention that falling victim to a cybercrime also has disastrous effects on one’s mental health.

The African Cyberthreat Assessment Report 2021, published by the International Criminal Police Organization, commonly known as Interpol, provides necessary insights into the digital crimewave seen across the entirety of Africa. South Africa in specific detected more than 230 million digital threats between January 2020 and February 2021, placing the country at third when it comes to the highest number of cybercrime victims globally. As you can imagine, cybercrimes have cost the country dearly, racking up a cost of around R2.2 billion annually.  

Just as the digital world constantly progresses, the world of cybercrimes moves just as fast. For instance, terms such as cryptojacking, ransomware, and data-harvesting malware were scarcely heard of in the past, but they are very quickly becoming popular cybercrimes and posing serious threats to victims globally.

Cryptojacking, a new cybercrime first seen in September 2017, is a crime in which a cybercriminal will gain unauthorized access to an unsuspecting users’ device through a malicious link or infected online ad and use the victims computing power to generate cryptocurrency without their knowledge. By having multiple devices all mining into one wallet, the hacker can generate an income and mine for more transactions faster.

Like cryptojacking, cryptocurrency investment scams are also to be avoided. South Africa is home to possibly the biggest crypto scam of 2020, in which Mirror Trading International (MTI), an “investment platform”, asked new users to invest at least $100 worth of Bitcoin. They claimed to pool those funds into a trading account on a forex derivative trading platform and promised returns of up to 10% a month. Much like a pyramid scheme, the company offered bonuses to users who referred new members. In 2020, it claimed to boast over 260 000 members globally. MTI turned out to be a Ponzi scheme, an investment scam where existing investors receive pay-outs using funds collected from newer investors. MTI was provisionally liquidated in December 2020 when it was declared unable to pay back debts after the CEO Johann Steynberg absconded to Brazil, where he was later arrested by Brazilian police. The company was placed in final liquidation in July 2021.

Also originating in South Africa, we have the Africrypt scandal. One of the largest crypto heists in history, brothers Raees and Ameer Cajee made off with approximately 69 000 Bitcoin, which was then valued at $3.6 billion (R50 billion). The brothers founded the investment platform in 2019 under the guise that it used a trading platform driven by artificial intelligence to invest money. They asked investors to deposit money that would be used to buy Bitcoin (while MTI solicited Bitcoin directly). In April 2021, Ameer told investors that Africrypt’s system had been hacked, and all funds had been stolen. Later that month, both brothers disappeared. Africrypt was placed into provisional liquidation in April 2021 and the South African court granted liquidators the authority to trace the missing funds and sell the company’s assets in August 2021.

It appears that major cybercrimes are moving towards cryptocurrencies, as they tend to be untraceable, however, we still need to be wary of the age-old scams we come across. Phishing remains at the top of the popularity list when it comes to cybercrimes, followed by non-payment scams and extortion. Personal data breaches, identity theft and spoofing are closely behind those. So, it’s imperative to keep your sensitive information protected and be very wary with whom you invest your money. Sometimes, it really is too good to be true.