Trust in SA institutions leads to ID theft - expert

Cape Town - The trust South Africans place in state and private institutions may make people more vulnerable to identity theft, says a local expert.

"We place our trust in governmental departments such as Home Affairs; reputable institutions that we hope will take care of our treasured identity. However, the reality is very different," Independent Identity Verification expert Dawid Jacobs told Fin24.

His comments reflect an increasing trend of criminals trying to exploit identities in SA.

Fin24 users recently reported instances of their IDs being used in a variety of fraudulent schemes, leaving them angry and frustrated.

But state institutions have also been exposed as negligent with criminals having been able to produce fraudulent official identity documentation.

A senior department of home affairs (DHA) official, Elisha Matsipa along with Pakistani national Wahdat Hussain were recently arrested for being part of a syndicate selling IDs for between R3 000 and R23 000.

The department acknowledged that outdated technology plays a role in facilitating corruption at its offices.

"DHA currently uses inefficient, out-dated manual systems which both hamper our ability to offer a speedy service to customers and are vulnerable to fraud and corruption," Minister Malusi Gigaba said in the 2014 budget vote for the department.

Gigaba said that despite the department's moves to roll out smart card IDs, there were serious problems with the issuing of documents.

Criminals are intent on using personal and financial data to steal money from your account. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

"An alarming number of IDs are reissued every year, due to loss or theft, and many of these documents subsequently lie unclaimed for years at Home Affairs offices, increasing identity theft and inviting fraud and corruption."

But many people are careless regarding their personal data as well, often disposing of information in the trash without ensuring that there is no personally identifiable information left on bills, for example.

"It also comes down to lack of education and carelessness. People are not aware of the dangers of not looking after or carelessly disposing of documents containing personal information," said Jacobs.

Social media

Internet habits and social media engineering can also result in the theft of personal information.

Recently, dating website AshleyMadison.com - which specialises in facilitating affairs - reported that 37 million identities were stolen. However, it is still unclear whether the hackers will use the information to conduct blackmail.

"A person should never provide any personal information on social media. This would include, ID number, passport number, and kinds of banking details, date of birth, address or even cellphone number. Almost every internet hack we hear about is aimed at stealing personal information," Jacobs warned.

A common strategy also involves criminals sending unsolicited Facebook messages, hinting that intimate information will be shared. Ultimately, the scam is designed to convince a mark to hand over banking details or use the personal interaction as part of a blackmail scheme.

As part of a campaign to protect identities, Jacobs is offering free verification of identification on the Nirvana database as a way of preventing it from being recycled for criminal enterprise.

Do you feel that your information is safe with public and private institutions in South Africa? Tell us by clicking here.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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