Security lapses compromise personal details of millions of Sassa beneficiaries

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.
  • Security lapses in the issuing of social grant beneficiary cards have exposed the personal information of millions of beneficiaries.
  • It is estimated that around 12 million cards were compromised.
  • Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said in 2019 they were alerted that the master keys for the cards had been compromised.

Security lapses for the master keys of social grant beneficiary cards occurred right at the start of the payment contract with South African Post Office (SAPO).

This is according to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu's response to a parliamentary question from IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe.

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It is estimated that around 12 million bank cards - including SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) cards - were compromised, exposing the personal details of beneficiaries.

"It must be noted that the potentially compromised cards did not result in any social grant beneficiary losing any social grant money. The fraud that has been experienced by social grant clients has been as a result of poor implementation of controls in the management of the cards within the post office environment, and not because of the security of the card itself. The security lapse for the master keys of the Sassa cards is not something which happened within the past few months, but right at the start of the payment contract with SAPO," Zulu said.

She said in 2019 Sassa was alerted that the master keys for the cards had been compromised "in the bank environment".

"The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) as the responsible entity for the national payment system then issued an instruction late in 2019 that all the current Sassa cards would have to be replaced as they are potentially compromised. However, the SARB also set conditions for the improvement of controls within the Postbank environment related to card manufacturing, storage and issuing. These have been addressed by Postbank," she said.

Zulu also said given the need to replace the cards in circulation, Sassa took a decision not to issue any more of the existing cards.

She cited that the need to replace the cards within a very short period would inconvenience social grant beneficiaries.

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"Discussions are under way with SAPO and Postbank to ensure that the replacement of the cards is done with the least disruption to the clients," she said.

Over the past five years, more than R282 million has been looted from Sassa, which is responsible for distributing social grants to more than 16 million South Africans.

A total of 258 cases were recorded in the last five years in all provinces, Zulu said previously.

Of these, only 76 officials had been fired. In total, 156 were placed on precautionary suspensions and 26 were suspended without pay.

KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of precautionary suspensions and dismissals - 111 officials were suspended and 25 dismissed.

In respect of the challenges with Sassa cards, Zulu said: "Sassa is not the custodian of the cards. These are banking instruments which are managed within a banking environment. Fighting crime and corruption, including the detection of fraud, is a key national priority and Sassa is committed to play its part."

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