Scammers rob South African soldiers while they fight overseas

Rapport reports that hundreds of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been fraudulently signed up for life insurance policies over the past few months.

The issue could have led to unknown fraudsters receiving payouts from the policies when the soldiers died.

The families of some of the 700 soldiers deployed to the DRC in December 2023 notified Rapport about the issue after noticing the payouts they received from the SANDF on behalf of the soldiers were shrinking.

Many soldiers are husbands and fathers who are the breadwinners of their households.

The deployed soldiers do not get salary slips and have limited access to communication systems while abroad, making it difficult to receive updates about changes in their accounts.

Nonetheless, some of the soldiers succeeded in getting through to the relevant insurer’s complaints departments.

They verified that the names, surnames, and ID numbers of the policyholders matched their own, but the contact numbers and beneficiaries of the policies were completely unknown.

Rapport has obtained recordings of some soldiers’ conversations with support agents and statements showing deductions from the fraudulent policies. While some deductions began in January 2024, others started in May.

One of the statements for a soldier who earned roughly R17,000 per month had a final amount of R5,900 going to his family.

While he had sufficient life and funeral insurance with a legitimate SANDF-approved provider that would provide for his family in the event of his death, R1,200 of the deductions were for policies that he never approved.

SANDF and the three insurers used to take out the policies — Avbob, Old Mutual, and Sanlam — are currently conducting an extensive investigation into the issue.

Avbob and Sanlam have confirmed that some of the impacted soldiers have been reimbursed, while Old Mutual said it still needed more information from SANDF to determine the extent of the fraud.

Sanlam said it had taken disciplinary action against some of the advisors who had approved the policies.

It is still unclear how the fraudsters obtained the information they would have required to sign up for the policies on behalf of the soldiers.

They would also have needed to forge the soldiers’ signatures.

Scammers rob South African soldiers while they fight overseas
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa

The incident comes a few months after the Department of Defence’s (DoD’s) network was breached by cyberattackers.

In late August 2023, notorious hacking group Snatch claimed responsibility for an incident in which it obtained 200TB of data from the DoD, which included the contact information of multiple government and military officials — including President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Security researchers who downloaded parts of the archive and provided feedback to MyBroadband on condition of anonymity also said the data appeared to be genuine.

The DoD initially denied it had suffered a data breach, with SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Andries Mokoena Mahapa calling it “fake news”.

The DoD said the incident was the work of “criminal syndicates within the cyberspace” aided by information leaked from the department.

It is unclear how this description disqualifies the incident from being defined as a data breach.

MyBroadband also interviewed the Snatch group. Based on their version of events, the DoD’s network was hacked, and the information was not leaked purely because of an insider’s cooperation.

“Ministry of Defence officials were categorically unwilling to accept information about penetration into the secure government network,” Snatch said.

“As […] evidence [they] were given their call signs, which [is] internal information,” Snatch stated.

“This did not lead to any results — we were simply ignored.”

DoD communication head Siphiwe Dlamini said the department’s policies prohibited the unauthorised access and sharing of classified information.

“The investigation continues, and the perpetrators will be brought to book,” Dlamini said in September 2023.

The DoD has yet to make any announcements on the progress of the investigation.

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