Massive increase in identity theft

Manie van Schalkwyk

IDENTITY theft contributed to a loss of R1-billion from local companies in 2014, with 3 600 cases found by the SA Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) the same year. And the numbers continued to escalate since.

SAFPS Executive Director Manie van Schalkwyk warned that the scale of the crime worsens with electronic transactions.

Identity fraud now includes theft of cell and landline phone services, cable and satellite television services, power, water and electricity; internet and data services, medical insurance, home mortgages and rental housing, car financing and other forms of financing and loans, as well as government benefits.

‘The crime has increased by more than 200% in six years,’ said Van Schalkwyk.

‘Catching the thieves is incredibly difficult as they pass themselves off as legitimate consumers very convincingly.’

He said criminals use an ID, often changing the photo and open bank accounts, purchase on credit and apply for loans.

‘People usually discover that they have become a victim of identity crime when they hear from a credit provider or debt collector about an account or debt they know nothing about.

ALSO READ: Online fraud alert

How to steer clear

‘The key advice is to treat your ID book, driver’s licence and personal documents as you would treat cash. Do not leave them lying around the house or in the car.

‘Shred documents before tossing them in the bin and clear mailboxes regularly, particularly if you live in a housing complex where there are multiple mail boxes in one area.

‘Do not ever click on web links received via SMS or email unless you have initiated the transaction and you are comfortable that it has been sent from an authentic source.

‘Consumers must also be on high alert when they receive an SMS or email asking them to click on a link to update their personal information or account details – criminals use online methods commonly known as ‘phishing’ scams to gain access to bank accounts and personal details.

‘Consumers should be extra cautious about sharing their personal information, especially when applying for services online, by always checking that the site is secure, as denoted by the ‘s’ (https) and select the appropriate privacy settings on social media sites.’

He said people regularly fall victim to several types of advance fee fraud and often divulge their personal details in the hope of winning a prize in a competition that they never entered, or entering into business or investment relationships.

‘If you suspect that you have been impersonated, contact the organisation which will advise you about the steps to take to prove your innocence and clear your name.

‘If you are aware of having misplaced your ID book, credit card or other means of identification, you can contact SAFPS, which will assist you in applying for a Protective Registration on the SAFPS database.

‘The benefit of Protective Registration is that all member organisations, including banks, clothing and furniture retailers and some insurance companies, have access to the SAFPS data base and any identity theft or fraud will be flagged and can be prevented.

‘This is a free service and consumers are encouraged to use it.’



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Mia Moorcroft

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