Crypto bucks rising financial crime trend

Reported fraud across the financial services industry in Africa has spiked, particularly in South Africa. However, while financial crime is on the rise, there has been a decline in illicit crypto transactions according to the foremost blockchain analysis company Chainalysis.

The 2020 UN Report on Trade and Development, estimates illicit losses of $88.6 million each year in Africa alone. In 2019, 2.1 percent of all global crypto transactions globally were categorised as illicit,” says Eva Crouwel, head of financial crime at Luno.

“In 2020 this number dropped to 0.34 percent of all global cryptocurrency transactions. This translates to roughly USD 10 billion globally.”

Around 95 percent of Luno customers currently involved in financial crime cases have been scammed

Reasons for rise in financial crime

According to Crouwel, there is a perfect storm of three main reasons for the rise in financial crimes in the country:

First, financial education levels tend to be lower in South Africa and combined with financial hardship caused by Covid-19, citizens are seeking good returns.”

Second, crypto is a new technology, so users are uncertain about how it works and how to protect themselves.”

Finally, personal data in Africa has not been well protected compared to Asian and European markets, even though POPIA was recently introduced in SA. This makes it easy for people with bad intentions to get hold of personal information.”

Among its nine million customers across 40 countries, in around 95 percent of Luno’s current financial crime cases, customers have been scammed. This varies from traditional ‘get-rich-quick’ scams to cases where customers are scammed into surrendering their login information to fraudsters, who sometimes pretend to be from Luno.

Regulation, or the lack thereof, is a significant factor.

“Luno fully supports regulation of crypto and believes that it will help to combat fraud. But the reality is that even highly regulated sectors experience financial crime, especially scams,” she says.

Given that crypto is so new, crypto businesses have a significant role to play in teaching customers how to stay safe and protecting customers. Luno uses external blockchain monitoring companies and restricts crypto movements when the data indicates that customers are at risk.

“Interestingly, there is no specific demographic for victims, despite widely-held perceptions that scammers target either the ignorant elderly, or young mavericks looking to make a quick buck or previously disadvantaged users,” says Crouwel.

Keeping customers safe

Luno recently underwent the rigorous process of independently verifying the existence of customer funds by means of a proof of reserves report prepared by Mazars South Africa.

“The proof of reserve report confirms to crypto holders that their wallets do in fact contain the cryptocurrency stated and avoids the dangerous situation of thinking they have digital assets which don’t exist.”

The platform conducts additional financial audits, security audits, audit of reserves and compliance audits to maintain trust.

“We invest heavily in advanced technology that allows our dedicated investigations team to access to real time, tech-driven insights, which means we are able to respond much more quickly to behaviour that has been identified as risky,” she says.

“We have always said that Luno is a safe platform to secure and store cryptocurrency and we now have external validation of this.”

Luno claims its security is “better than bank-grade”

The financial services industry tracks patterns and fraud margins and would consider overall fraud loss thresholds of five to eight percent as acceptable. Risk appetites do differ between institutions, but a recent PWC report on fraud losses found that most fraud is not even further investigated.

Luno’s threshold of between 0.5 and 1.5 percent allows Crouwel to make the bold claim that the platform’s security is “better than bank-grade.”

“We also count on our customers to keep the best interest of their funds in mind when dealing with cryptocurrency,” adds Crouwel. “We recently embarked on an email campaign to our customers to explain the risks and what to look out for.”

Eva Crouwel, head of financial crime at Luno

Tips to keep your crypto safe

  • Use a recognised, reputable exchange, as a significant investment in security will mean that your money remains safe.
  • The weakest link is human beings. It is exceedingly rare to see actual hacking in crypto financial fraud.
  • It is true that crypto is volatile but be aware that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Treat your login information with as much respect as you do your bank login details.

Read more: Five cybersecurity trends we’ll see in 2022

Featured image by Jefferson Santos/Unsplash

Lindsey Schutters


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