By 12 April 2019 | Categories: feature articles


At the first of a series of ongoing interactions with Visa yesterday in Bryanston, the company offered an overview of the transaction space. Bevan Smith, the head of risk at Visa sub Saharan Africa, expounded on what the main online and offline threats are, while highlighting what is top of mind for consumers when they are doing electronic payments.

Indeed, of late the boundaries between whether making payments is a technology issue, or a banking one – or more likely, both – has blurred. As well, the likes of Samsung Pay and Apple Pay, have certainly pushed transacting in the digital age into the limelight. 

Smith began by stressing that Visa acknowledges that it has a significant responsibility to ensure that transactions done across its network are safe and that its users can be confident that their payments are secure whether they are using digital, face to face or online means to transact. Given the 24/7 activity of malicious players this is easier said than done, as he noted that certainly, fraud and cybersecurity risks are an ongoing challenge.

Risk awareness

More specifically, Smith identified a number of threats that users should be on the lookout for when transacting. The first of these is shoulder surfing, where crooks spy on someone entering their pin into an ATM. This can largely be deterred by firstly being aware of who is around when withdrawing cash, and covering the keypad with one’s hand, as well as blocking visibility with your body, when at an ATM.

Worth considering is that as we see the rise of telescopic lenses being included in smartphones such as Huawei’s P30, it’s quite possible for someone to be sitting a fair distance aware and zoom in to an ATM without you being aware of them doing so. A typical modus operandi, Bevin noted is that these fraudsters often act in pairs, with one relaying information to the other, who may then try steal a victim’s card.

Keep your cards close to your chest

Another common threat is card skimming, whereby fraudsters use skimming devices to illegally collect data from the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. However, this can also be largely averted by keeping track of your card at all times. As well, moves are afoot to phase out the use of magnetic stripes in favour of EMV computer microchips, which produce a once off code per transaction. As well, contactless, or tap and go technology is also slated to reduce card skimming substantially, with Smith noting that it produces the lowest fraud rates of any type of payment.

A third threat to be wary of is credit card swapping. This one is fairly common, as the target finds their credit or debit card inexplicably getting jammed in the ATM, with a “Good Samaritan” conveniently being on hand to ‘help’ (mainly liberate money from your account without your permission). It’s often used in conjunction with shoulder surfing. The best strategy to avoid this one is to be wary of strangers getting too close for comfort at an ATM, or stepping in to help you resolve a jammed card.

Finally, another threat to be aware of, according to Smith, is cash itself, with criminals typically following their target from an ATM or after making a withdrawal from a branch.  

Silver linings

The good news is that digital transactions, such as Samsung Pay, are often more secure than relying on cash. This is because these kinds of transactions are represented by an encrypted token, rather than a real account number, that becomes useless if it is intercepted.

Smith continued that a particular focus for Visa is getting the balance between security and convenience right, so that users can still transact securely, without having to sacrifice ease in making a payment. He elaborated that this is achieved by earning, and keeping, users’ trust.     

Admittedly, earning trust can be a feat in itself. However, he elaborated, the company is building trust with its users by focusing on five core principles that consumers have indicated are important to them when making electronic payments.

1.       Reassurance

Smith explained that users want to know that if they do have a problem like fraud on their card they will be able to get their money back, and that this will be done in a timely fashion.

2.       Transparency

Also important to users is being able to easily identify a transaction, especially when it is done online, and thus be able to determine whether a transaction was affected by them, or as a result of fraud. No less desired is being able to get instantaneous updates on any activity on one’s account, so that a compromised card, for example, can be detected as soon as it is used by an unauthorised party.

3.       Reliability

It sounds obvious but still bears mentioning - key to users is that the card network is reliable and available at all times. Smith pointed out that if the network isn’t available, then users revert to cash, and may also experience anxiety about not having cash on hand to cover a minor expense.

4.       Security and privacy

Somewhat self explanatory, security and privacy refers to users wanting to know that organisations they deal with for financial transactions can and will secure their personal information as well as be able to offer secure transactions.

5.       Social validation

The final keypoint that Visa is focusing on is whether its offerings are well known, and used, by people’s personal circle of friends, family and coworkers.

As the truism goes, knowledge is power, and certainly being aware of the risks, and aware of how particularly companies are addressing those risks, is the first step to keeping oneself safe. Hopefully we will be hearing more from Visa to this end.  


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