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An investigative study of the policing of identity theft and fraud: a case of the Durban South African Police Services Serious Commercial Crime Unit.

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The line between reality and unreality is blurred and, in a postmodern and technologically driven world, it is difficult to tell the real from those things that simulate the real. Extrapolating past events to solve current problems becomes highly risky and often misleading because the strategies employed might not support technological advancement. Against this background, it seems that identity theft and fraud, as separate but also related crimes, are disregarded when criminal phenomena are examined and prioritised. The dangers and disadvantages of this result in little or no fast-tracked plan of action against identity (or ID) theft and fraud. However, it is of great importance to examine ID theft and fraud in depth because of the sophisticated and imminent danger they bring to bear on society. Moreover, these crimes have infamous appeal and their perpetration by criminals worldwide is high due to the unlikelihood of detection. With criminals becoming increasingly adept at both cyberspace and more traditional methods of identity theft perpetration, the criminal justice arena is seen as becoming unequipped and lacking in the ability to keep pace with this form of criminality. The false and misguided belief that only the negligent and careless fall victim to identity theft and fraud should be shifted and the focus should fall on the development of effective and practical solutions to deter and possibly eradicate identity theft and fraud. It is thus pivotal to explore current processes that drive identity theft and fraud crimes to allow law enforcement to manoeuvre effectively towards deterring these criminal acts. Understanding the tactics and regulatory procedures utilised by law enforcement agencies against identity theft and fraud, and the gaps that might exacerbate these phenomena, is therefore vital in addressing this scourge. Additionally, by comparing and understanding the reasons for current statistics to explain the escalation in these crimes, law enforcement will be able to move towards the design and implementation of new strategies to curb them. The study argues that identity theft and fraud should not be crimes that commercial banks, social media platforms, and internet-based companies are oblivious too. Identity theft exists. It is constantly evolving and causes harm to an increasingly larger group of people, often the elderly, within society. However, the evolution of technology impacts and encourages perpetrators of such criminal behaviour to be more eventful and creative in their approach and modus operandi and enhances their ability to escape and thrive undetected. The extent of the harm and damage identity theft and fraud cause individuals, families, companies and the government means that their prevalence should never be overlooked or underestimated. The study sought to investigate the policing of identity theft and fraud in the Durban area in KwaZulu-Natal. My examination of these phenomena was not limited to a specific type of identity theft but was all encompassing. The geographical demarcation of the study was restricted to the South African Police Services Serious Commercial Crime Unit (SAPS SCCU), John Ross House, Durban. The goal was to solicit information pertaining to the strategies utilised by law enforcement agencies, particularly the SAPS, to police and deter identity theft and fraud. This was pivotal in light of the rising figures in identity theft and fraud and the lack of research on policing and deterring these criminal phenomena. As one of its main objectives, the study sought to understand the discrepancy between the recorded figures of ID theft and fraud and their actual rates of occurrence. This qualitative study made use of open-ended semi-structured interviews for the elicitation of data to achieve this objective. The study found that various types of identity theft and fraud were perpetrated by syndicates using varying modus operandi, with particular focus on technologically advanced methodologies. What appeared disconcerting was a lack in the ability of law enforcement to keep pace with criminal tactics and the modus operandi utilised by perpetrators that lead to the widespread occurrence of these crime forms. The SAPS SCCU is the only unit that is mandated to investigate commercial crime in KZN, and its success rate, according to the investigating officers, is average to high. However, the capacity of this unit to cope with the workload is somewhat limited due to its geographical jurisdiction that encompasses the whole of the KZN Province. Recommendations are offered in response to the data and the challenges that are associated with the processes of policing identity theft and fraud.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.


Fraud investigation--South African Police Services.