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City claimants affected by cyberattack on Guardian’s Fund

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City claimants, including children, maintenance claims and persons unable to manage their legal affairs, have been left stranded after a a suspected cyberattack at the Pietermaritzburg Master of the High Court offices.

The Guardian’s Fund has been frozen after R10 million was stolen during a suspected cyberattack. File image. Picture: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

THE GUARDIAN’S Fund has been frozen after R10 million was stolen during a suspected cyberattack at the Pietermaritzburg Master of the High Court offices.

This has affected payments throughout the country including the Kimberley and Bloemfontein Master of the High Court offices where claimants, including children, maintenance claims and persons unable to manage their legal affairs, have been left stranded.

A decision is being awaited from the national office of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development as to when payments will resume.

All offices nationwide have been closed and it is believed that Absa bank is conducting a forensic audit in an attempt to contain the hack, while the chief master has seized desktops and laptops of officials in order to trace unauthorised transactions from the Guardian’s Fund.

The Guardian’s Fund, which is invested with the Public Investment Corporation, has around R13 billion according to financial statements as of 2018.

The spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Chrispin Phiri, confirmed the incident and stated that the department had opened criminal charges.

“Unauthorised transactions may have been attempted on the Guardian’s Fund at the Masters office in Pietermaritzburg.

“At this stage, it is not clear whether this unauthorised attempt was the work of a cyberattack. The department has laid a case with the South African Police Service. The South African Police Service will investigate all elements of possible criminality.

“In addition, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s forensic team and banking partners are conducting an internal investigation.”

Phiri indicated that, at this stage, some reports relating to the Northern Cape would also be investigated.

He added that beneficiaries would be updated on alternative mechanisms.

A Northern Cape mother, who was told that she was unable to receive any payments this week, indicated yesterday that she would not be able to care for her three minor children as she relied on the maintenance money to pay school fees.

“I am afraid that I will be blacklisted. My electricity has been blocked a few times and I pray that I will be able to pay the bills this month,” she said.

“I am a single mother and I work on a commission basis so I am never sure how much money I will earn each month. Some days I go hungry and I am worried that I will not be able to provide for my children.

“Even during the lockdown parents were expected to pay school fees so I am struggling to make ends meet.

“This amounts to abuse because the system was put in place in order to be a safety net for children who have been denied justice yet the officials are not brought to book when they steal funds meant for the poor and needy.”

She added that she did not receive a monthly statement detailing withdrawals, deposits or balances.

“It appears as if there are no checks and balances.”

She stated that beneficiaries of the Guardian’s Fund did not qualify for social security grants.

“If my children become ill I will not have the money to take them to a private doctor and our local hospital is currently only treating Covid-19 patients.”