Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Every month Olympic gold medalist Ryk Neethling spends thousands on lawyer’s fees to combat online scams that illegally use his identity to make money.
The swimmer-turned-property-developer is not the only public figure that has been victim to identity theft and online fraud though.
Fake online identities of entertainers and especially politicians – even President Jacob Zuma – have popped up.
TV presenter Jeannie Dee said this week that recently “people stole my name and picture to sell diet pills on the Internet”.
Neethling added: “People have gone out and committed fraud using my name. On social media, people have acted as me. They have befriended people and have been asking for money.”
“Some have approached females, asking things from them or trying to sell products that were fraudulent. It’s something we have to deal with on a monthly basis.”
Neethling said he “can’t go and pursue all those cases”.
“You need a lawyer. It will cost you at a minimum of R50,000 a month if you have to pursue lawyers letters and interdicts. It can also damage a brand that you have spent years on building.”
Nadeem Shahid, a founding partner of the website ThisIsMe, said they are able to help combat online fraud by providing an independent identity verification service to Internet users.
ThisIsMe launched in Cape Town this week, after 14 months of development, and intends to operate initially in South Africa. Its team of multi-national owners and staff work from offices in Kloof Street in Gardens.
ThisIsMe website would hold a database of voluntarily verified online users. Other Internet users could check the validity of these user’s identities via websites linked to ThisIsMe.
Shahid said this would be useful when undertaking financial transactions or even engaging on dating websites. He said ThisIsMe would use various means to authenticate an online user as legitimate.
“We have full access to the home affairs department’s database so we can verify identity numbers, proof of address and photographs. This is information that confirms if someone is registered with the government in South Africa,” he said.
“We ask users to upload their banking details and we deposit one cent into their bank account to verify that it is real,” he said.
“With this, we also use the one-time password method commonly used by PayPal and American Express by depositing a small amount into your bank account, asking a user to quote the reference number we sent them. This alerts us that the bank account belongs to them.”
“We also check that their mobile phone numbers are correct. Users can then add their education and employment details to their profile. This profile can now be shared anywhere from your email signature to your CV.”
He added: “When someone else clicks on the verification link they would be able to see that the person they are dealing with is who they say they are.”
Shahid said this “independent online verification authority” is free to users.
“We make money from merchants or websites that want this service. They want to have people who are verified to be buying and selling goods, for example, on their website,” he said.
Shahid said the safety of user’s personal data is ensured via “strict data security standards, including encrypted data storage structures”.
“Access to your own data is protected by two-factor authentication and all our partners are strictly scrutinised before any agreement or integration can take place,” he said.
Claire Cobbledick, head of marketing at popular classifieds website Gumtree, said one of the fears that prevent growth of their business is a lack of trustworthiness among online users.
Cobbledick said Gumtree has eight million unique browsers every month on its website. Three million adverts are placed on the website monthly.
“Personal safety and trustworthiness is a problem online. We have a filtering system that blocks adverts that are fraudulent or scams. But users want to know they can trust others on the platform. It’s a challenge,” said Cobbledick.
“There are new users we could bring into the classified environment. We need to solve the issues of trustworthiness online. This is critical for business.”
She said they needed to consider identity verification options, as “users want to check if someone is trustworthy”.
“We could grow our users if people trusted the adverts that are placed online,” she said.
Shahid said if their system was linked to websites like Gumtree, a user could verify the identity of each buyer or seller online.
“There are so many fake online accounts using the identities of dead people. You would know immediately if someone was using a dead person’s name as that person would be registered as dead on the home affairs database that we have access to,” he said.
Neethling said he was still scared of shopping online though and would consider it if he could verify the identity of the person he was transacting with.
“I know a top businessman who bought tickets online for the Beijing Olympics and the tickets were fake. He flew his family over there but couldn’t watch any games,” he cautioned.
“Also if you look at renting apartments when traveling… You never know if you rock up there on your dream vacation if the apartment will actually look like that or if the person will even be there.”
Statistics from the South African Banking Risk Information Centre for last year indicate that online identity theft increases 16% annually in South Africa. It said this cost South Africans at least R2.2-billion last year.
It added: “Account takeover fraud is the fastest growing type of fraud in South Africa. It increased by 100.5% from R1.1-million in 2012 to R2.2-million in 2013.
“It happens when a fraudster gets and uses a victim’s personal information to take control of existing bank or credit card accounts and carries out unauthorised transactions against them.”
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
At the end of a walk through Amsterdam’s China Town, right on the border of the city’s famed Red Light District, is a South African tattoo artist building a global reputation for his unique body inking style.
Jonathan Hong, 29, goes by the artist name JayFreestyle. Although he has been a tattoo artist for only six years, he has already gained recognition via international tattoo conventions for his freestyle tattoo art.
He explains of his style: “Everything is spontaneous, done on the day. There’s no pre-work. I draw a tattoo onto the body and go from there. It’s my preferred method. I like to play around.
“The body is not a piece of paper so it’s easier to draw directly on to it instead of first drawing a tattoo on a piece of paper and seeing if it would fit on the body.”
The interesting part is that Hong had no prior ambition to being a tattoo artist. He was pushed in that direction after his parents opened a fashion accessory shop in Amsterdam.
He started offering body piercings and later tattoos.
“The person who taught me about piercings pushed me into doing tattoos,” he says.
Now the Johannesburg born-and-raised tattoo artist, who moved to the Netherlands a decade ago with his parents, has clients from all over seeking out his creations.
“Clients come in with an idea and then tell me to do it however I see best. I ask them to come in with reference pictures so I know what they like visually,” he says.
“While I’m drawing it up, you get to see how it’s fitting and what it looks like. I sometimes don’t even know what it’s going to look like. The result can be a lot different from the original idea.
“I make stuff up as I go along, and see what works best. It depends what the subject matter is. If it’s something abstract then it’s really just a gamble. It just feels much easier to get the flow and composition correct this way.”
His style has also become known for its watercolour paint effect. His tattoo creations include multi-coloured paint-like splashes over a dark tattoo.
Hong says this style has “no constraints and that’s what I like about it”.
“I’m doing a style that not too many can do. It’s a niche market. Not many people understand this style. It’s difficult for someone to try and copy it,” he says.
“There are not many artists doing what I do so it’s easier to stand out. Most of my jobs then come through referrals.”
Hong says he prefers having a niche in an industry that has shifted from a sub-culture with misperceptions to mainstream acceptability.
“Tattoos are no longer taboo. I tattoo people from all ages and parts of the world. The older generation still associates tattoos with criminals but that stigma is luckily dying,” says Hong.
He adds: “With so many different people coming my way, it’s a great honour when someone travels to Amsterdam just to get a tattoo from me. The amount of people that I meet is one of my favourite things. There are people that I would never have met if I were not a tattoo artist.”
He says taking the risk on someone else’s body has become easier with time because “people know my work”.
“I’ve been showing my work at tattoo conventions. This year I will go to nine conventions and next year I might do one every month,” he says.
“Conventions take a lot of time, energy and money to travel and also to pay for your booth. But you need conventions to build your name. Once people know you, it gets easier.”
Hong has traveled mostly to tattoo conventions in Germany this year and says he tries to get to at least three in the United States in a year. He says tattoo collectors in these two countries “go big”.
“The Germans and Americans are very similar when it comes to tattooing. They love big tattoos and the unusual. Germans travel to my Amsterdam studio often to get tattoos here.”
He is targeting future markets: “Next year I plan on doing the UK and eventually also want to do Australia and Japan.”
“Conventions are the main way of getting your name out there. I am trying to do more conventions to spread my name. People come to you, speak to you and get to know your work.”
Hong says Cape Town tattoo collectors and artists often ask him when he would participate in this city’s convention, but he has not made it there yet.
Hong’s body bears a few tattoos. And he learned the hard way to be selective about choosing an artist to leave their mark on his skin.
“My first tattoo was crappy. It’s covered up now. I learned from that to look at portfolios before deciding on a tattoo artist,” he says.
“You need to take your time. Choose the correct artist. This is something that’s going to be on your body for the rest of your life. Look for the artist that speaks to you. A tattoo is one of the few things that you’ll take with you to your grave.”
He adds: “Don’t just blindly trust the artist. There are a lot of really bad tattoo artists.”
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Starting a gym workout daily at 5:30am while living on chicken and broccoli for a while are part of the sacrifices a young man must make if he wants to shape up.
One young man, Sheldon Valjalo, is not only shaping though. He is among those who are bulking up for competitions that celebrate fitness and physique.
Valjalo competes in categories that focus more on physique, or as he calls it: “beach bodies”.
“Ours is more of a fitness look. It’s not about looking too big. It’s about building nice, lean muscle,” he says.
Valjalo plans to compete in the Mr and Ms Fitness SA Championships in Cape Town on September 28.
Valjalo, who is finishing his third year of financial studies at the University of Cape Town, only started competing in bodybuilding competitions this year.
When Valjalo moved from Johannesburg to study in Cape Town three years ago he was already playing various sports. He then started playing rugby for UCT.
“I’ve always loved a fitness lifestyle. I played sports since I was a young child. I played cricket, soccer and rugby,” he says.
As he was building muscle, he sought a new challenge.
“I couldn’t see myself just going to the gym just for the sake of it. I needed to have a goal. Some guys told me about these competitions and I decided to go for it. I’m a very competitive guy,” he says.
Valjalo says he had already been hitting the gym six days a week before he started showing off his results at competitions. With various contests underway, he now trains twice daily.
“It’s tough. I train for an hour and a half almost every day. But I like the feeling when I’ve worked hard in the gym. It was also worth it when my name was called out on the stage and I made the WP team,” he says.
Apart from training hard, Valjalo says building muscle also requires “what a lot of people struggle with” – a healthy diet.
“The way you eat changes. The diet is very tough. You eat very plain food. I had to change a lot of things. You cut out the fats and some carbohydrates,” he says.
“The amount of chicken and broccoli I eat is insane. I had to learn how to cook, but I’m not very good at it.”
Valjalo says working out for competitions also requires using supplements.
“There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s not much harm done. You need supplements to repair your muscles,” he says.
“There are people who use illegal substances. They’ll do anything to get bigger quicker and succeed. This training is very tough on the body, so I can understand why they take these substances. But that happens in every sport.”
Joanne Gonsalves, organiser of the Mr and Ms Fitness SA Championships, says their aim is “inspire others to work out, and this doesn’t necessarily mean only at the gym”.
“Our athletes range from martial arts specialists, to cyclists, surfers and have other sporting interests. We want to inspire others to keep active, eat clean and to stay in shape,” says Gonsalves.
Valjalo says pursuing fitness training has meanwhile opened up a new world to him.
“This sport is individual-based but I’ve met a lot of people doing this who have pushed me through the hard times. I’ve met very nice, supportive people, even if they look like intimidating muscle junkies,” he says.
“Making the provincial team has also been great because there’s a great spirit among the 30 guys and girls on the team.”
Valjalo believes bodybuilding is a “popular sport and it’s growing”.
“It can be intimidating at first. Some guys have very big muscles and it looks like you can’t speak to them. But they are just normal people, following their passion and loving what they’re doing,” he says.
Valjalo says while one could “become a professional and earn a living off it” he intends to follow his father’s footsteps and start a career in stockbroking.
“I’m moving back to Johannesburg when I finish my studies this year. That’s where the money is,” he laughs.