Identity thief caught in act

2014-06-21 00:00

IDENTITY fraud is on the increase in South Africa, according to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS).

The organisation said this was a concern as consumers in this country are heavily reliant on credit.

Identify fraud hit close to home recently when a Pietermaritzburg man, Sicelo Zondi — a civil engineering candidate technician at the KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department — caught a man red-handed at a clothing store where he had used Zondi’s ID document to open an account and buy clothes.

Thamsanqa Thabethe was subsequently arrested. He is out on bail awaiting trial for the incident, but Zondi is still receiving letters of demand for payment from stores where Thabethe had allegedly run up debt in his name to the tune of R1 500.

SAFPS executive director Carol McLoughlin said, “Based on the year-to-date figure, already 1 370 cases have been reported to the SAFPS as at the end of April, 2014.

“There was a 16% increase in this crime from a total of 3 327 cases in 2012 to a total of 3 873 cases in 2013, and this hike looks set to continue as it is estimated that the number of incidents could exceed the 4 000 mark by the end of 2014,” she said.

In South Africa, it is estimated that identity theft costs the economy R1 billion each year.

One of South Africa’s credit bureaus, Compuscan, has been keeping a close watch on the situation.

Compuscan director Frank Lenisa said, “What worries us even more is that consumers are often unaware that they have fallen victim to such a crime and this could have a severe negative knock-on effect on their ability to obtain credit in future.”

He said that every account that is opened and every credit transaction that takes place under a consumer’s identity is recorded on their credit report.

“Often consumers only find out that they have been a victim of impersonation when checking their credit report to apply for a home loan, store finance, car finance, etc. or when their request for credit is denied,” said Lenisa.

“It’s important for credit-active consumers to keep a close eye on account activity under their names. This is one of the steps that can be taken to protect the health of their credit records.”

How can you protect your personal information?

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) said people should not disclose personal information over the Internet or telephonically, without knowing exactly what it will be used for.

Be wary of entering competitions or answering surveys, as these may be scams to source your information. “Getting to know you” e-mails are also a great source of personal information.

Consider what you disclose via electronic media — personal profiles on your business site, social networking, chat rooms and so on.

Do not carry all your identification documentation with you, unless absolutely necessary. Generally, only one form is necessary for day-to-day activities, so lock the rest away securely.

Take care of your filing. Documents can be stolen from your car or office without you being aware that they are missing or have been copied.

Shred what you don’t want to keep. Your rubbish bin is a great source of information so make sure your documents cannot be read by others when you dispose of them.

When you sell electronic ­devices, such as cellphones or computers, make sure that all personal information is deleted and the hard drive must be formatted before you release the item.

Make sure that before you hand over personal information, it is subject to a confidentiality clause and cannot be sold or used for anything other than the specified purpose.

Transunion ITC and the three credit bureaus in South Africa will give you a free credit report on your birthday. Use the report to check whether institutions have been making inquiries about you, which may be an indication that your details have been used without your authorisation.

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