Vinny Lingham targets tackling identity theft

Silicon Valley entrepreneur, South African-born Vinny Lingham, wants to transform the digital security space. (Photo: Gareth van Zyl)
Silicon Valley entrepreneur, South African-born Vinny Lingham, wants to transform the digital security space. (Photo: Gareth van Zyl)

Johannesburg - Serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur, South African-born Vinny Lingham, wants to curb identity theft with his latest venture dubbed ‘Civic’.

Lingham shot to Silicon Valley fame in the US when he sold his virtual gift card service Gyft to First Data for over $50m in 2014.

Prior to Gyft, Lingham also served as founder and chief executive officer of website builder service Yola and digital marketing solutions firm Clicks2Customers.

But now the serial entrepreneur - who was in Johannesburg this week speaking at events like the Bitcoin Africa Conference - wants to disrupt the online security space with identity protection startup Civic.

Civic is expected to launch during 2016 and the startup earlier this year closed a $2.75m round of seed funding.

Lingham told Fin24 that hackers can easily steal people’s identities and that the cyber security industry has built big businesses out of scaring people.

"People are really paranoid about this. So, a whole industry has been built out of fear-mongering people,” Lingham told Fin24.

"The whole way these (cyber security) companies have gone to market is to scare you into paying them to help you and giving you a solution to identity theft and fraud. But to be honest the solutions that they offer don't work,” he said.

Lingham said that typically a victim of identity fraud may not know when fake accounts are taken out in their names.

Subsequently, Lingham said Civic plans to notify customers via mobile when an account - such as a telephone contract - is applied for with the customer’s identity number.

"With Civic, that provider would connect with us - notify us that there's an account opened up in your name, (and) if you were one of our users, it would ping you on your phone and you'd be able to approve if you're opening an account,” Lingham told Fin24.

"So, we don't charge consumers; we charge businesses for the service,” Lingham said.

Lingham explained that businesses typically lose money if somebody opens up a fake account and rings up a bill.  

"We help the merchants reduce their fraud costs,” Lingham explained.

"They (businesses) lose money. So, if somebody opens up a fake account, not under your name and rings up a telecoms bill and it wasn't you - then it wasn't you. They then have to cancel the account; they're out of pocket then on the fees on phone line numbers etc,” Lingham said.

Lingham was tight-lipped about when Civic would launch exactly but the startup's website says the company expects to start operations during the Northern Hemisphere's Spring period this year (South Africa's Autumn period).

SA identity theft, fraud

Civic as a service may resonate with South Africans amid growing incidents of identity theft in the country.

ID theft contributed to the loss of R1bn from local companies in 2014 alone, according to local document destruction company Cleardata.

READ: ID theft costs SA firms R1bn per year

Earlier this week, Fin24 also reported about a SIM-swap scam that pilfers customers of hundreds of thousands of rands.

READ: Thousands of rands lost in SIM-swap scam

The scam allegedly involves insiders at FNB and MTN putting banking customers’ phones on the “blink” to assist fraudsters with obtaining key details such as online banking One Time Pins (OTPs).

Private consulting forensic scientist, Dr David Klatzow, has made the allegations of the inside job at MTN and FNB and he claims he knows of dozens of victims.

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