Africa: Rwanda Third Lowest-Risk African Country for Identity Fraud – Report

Rwanda comes third in personal data protection and digital fraud prevention in Africa, according to the latest findings by Smile ID, a digital verification services firm headquartered in Lagos.

Dubbed the Smile ID “2024 Digital ID Fraud in Africa Report,” the report, which is composed of anonymised transaction data, noted that Rwanda only trails Senegal and Botswana.

This, authors of the report said, is in large part attributed to the “significant” investment made by the country in efficiently securing biometric data, which has also proven valuable in legal proceedings and digital transactions.

According to the 64-page report, 80 per cent of identity fraud attacks are carried out with the use of national identity documents, making them the most targeted ID type.

This is because, as the report notes, “government-issued ID documents remain the cornerstone for ID verification in today’s digital world,” and “fraudsters seeking to access financial services will usually attempt to bypass onboarding protocols using compromised documents.”

For Africa, the report highlighted, increased investment in digital infrastructure and improved connectivity has led to a jump in the number of internet users, which means it has become easier to have access to digital services, and that this digital transformation boom has given rise to many opportunities as well as risks, either with digital onboarding or other online transactions.

The report shows that fraud trends are evolving to include biometrics, citing that 13 per cent of all biometric verification attempts handled from September to December (2023) were marked as fraudulent.

The overall fraud rate has remained on a steady increase in the past four years, with the payments industry suffering the highest level of fraud in 2023, at more than 40 per cent of verification attempts.

These high levels of fraud notwithstanding, and with the fraudsters mutating their tactics to beat security systems, the report highlights that biometrics remains the most reliable option to combat digital fraud.

Ordinarily, biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics.

According to the report, entities that rely on textual verification instead of biometrics are four times more likely to fall to the schemes of fraudsters. However, the report mentioned, that deployment of multifactor biometric authentication across the entire customer life-cycle is important.

It also recommends the use of active liveness detection systems, which it says were responsible for identifying 87 per cent of all biometric fraud attempts caught in 2023.

All not rosy

The spiralling trend of identity-related fraud in Africa, perpetrated mostly through national ID documents, portends great dangers for Africa’s lofty plans of leveraging its digital economy to meet crucial socio-economic development goals.

The warning is contained in the same report.

Attacks against organisations deploying biometrics, however, are far less likely to succeed.

Speaking on why it matters, the Director of Marketing at Smile ID, Peace Itimi said: “Our reports testify to our ongoing dedication to facilitating secure and efficient identity verification, supporting compliance and regulatory understanding, and driving the fight against fraud. By offering these insights, we aim to not only lead the conversation but also to shape the future of digital identification.”

Biometrics are the new norm

Jacques Tuyisenge, a tech expert based in Kigali, argues that the use of biometrics in detecting fraud and determining the location where the fraud occurred should be considered the new norm

“I use it in different ways, especially for identifying people to get proof of identities and they are used to protect data.”

He added: “With the advent of technology, everything is digital, where all transactions are done remotely. We use biometrics to identify people and secure transactions.”

Antonel Olckers, Director General at the African Forensic Sciences Academy, praised the Rwanda Forensic Institute (RFI) for the huge investment in using biometrics.

RFI is the country’s forensic agency.

“We have never seen a government efficiency at the level that we are seeing in Rwanda. It makes me proud as an African.”

“And so forensic pathologists, forensic scientists, all the different fields that we represent work together to generate valid scientific evidence, results that we hand over to the prosecutors and then they can go to court.”

She added: “We are one part of the system, the judges and prosecutors are another part, and together we serve as one network to serve the people of Africa and bring justice to the people of Africa.”

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