In 2020, in the wake of various levels of lockdown, South Africans flocked to e-commerce retailers to shop Black Friday, which this year, takes place on 26 November. 

Given the resultant upsurge in online sales as well as prevailing hesitancies to shop at brick-and-mortar stores following warnings of a possible fourth wave of COVID-19, e-tailers are set to make the big wins once again. 

However, along with the conveniences that online shopping brings, comes a greater risk of cybercrime – a threat that South African consumers are urged to safeguard themselves against ahead of the year’s biggest shopping event.

“The statistics paint a telling picture – one that all South Africans need to be aware of ahead of Black Friday, which presents a number of opportunities for cybercrime in the form of online shopping fraud and phishing,” says Leon Jacobs, Chief Information Officer at RCS.

According to recent research, the average South African buys 4.5 products on Black Friday and spends R1,735, with the majority of shoppers using their smartphones to shop online. 

Another study found that the value of online retail in South Africa increased by more than double over the last two years. In 2020 particularly, with the onset of the pandemic, although total retail fell substantially, online retail grew exponentially, reaching a total volume of over R30 billion. 

This year, analysts expect this trend to keep gaining traction.

Unfortunately, with the upsurge in online sales came a dramatic increase in cybercrime, placing South Africa at number three on the list of the most commonly targeted countries in the world according to Accenture. 

Most of those threats were related to emails, targeted ransomware and business email compromise attempts.

There are various measures South Africans can take to shop safely this Black Friday and prevent themselves from falling prey to opportunistic cybercriminals. One way of doing so is to shop only at reputable stores. 

A simple way of preventing shopping at fraudulent stores is to search for reviews and complaints about that store online. In addition, reputable stores will have detailed returns and exchanges processes as well as transparent delivery policies and charges.

“Many South African stores that can be verified either by contacting their head offices, checking their social media accounts or by researching consumer reviews of their online service. 

“We encourage all South Africans to do their research ahead of the big day and only shop from trusted sources,” says Jacobs.

Jacobs adds that it’s important to update your contact details to ensure you receive SMS notifications for purchases on your account. “If you receive a transaction notification SMS and you haven’t transacted, you should immediately contact your financial services provider to report the incident. 

“A reputable financial services provider will never request passwords, OTP (One-Time-Pin) or reference numbers to verify a transaction. Be careful when clicking on links in SMS messages – they should never prompt you for account details or personal information.”

Another important way to shop safely this Black Friday is to avoid using public WiFi when logging onto your online banking profile or accessing your account with an online retailer. 

As Jacobs explains: “Very often, criminals use free WiFi as a means to hack devices and steal important personal information like passwords, account details and addresses. 

“Using your own secure WiFi at home or data may be more expensive in the short-term, but it’s one of the best safety measures that consumers can use to avoid serious risk in the long-term.”

Recently ratified legislation like the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act has played a crucial role in protecting data from cybercriminals. “A reputable South African online retailer will abide by the conditions of the Act. 

“In this regard, South African consumers need to understand their rights and ensure that the sites they choose to shop from, are aware that they are accountable for the protection of important personal information. 

“With the right precautions, no South African needs to become a statistic this Black Friday,” concludes Jacobs.