Identity theft in SA booming

A HILLCREST private investigator believes South Africans’ relaxed lifestyles make them easy targets for identity theft.

With the identity theft industry costing South African businesses in excess of R1 billion a year, the targets predominately being males aged 30-40 years old in Gauteng and KZN, industry players say the criminals are ghosts and are seldom caught.

Carol McLoughlin of the South African Fraud Prevention Association, a body leading banks and financial institutions use to share information on fraudsters and their methods, said the scale of the identity theft is rising as more and more transactions are done electronically.

McLoughlin said catching the thieves is incredibly difficult as they are at first seen as legitimate consumers.

“But the money they steal is often linked to a fraudulent account. There is nothing that links the crime to the perpetrator.

“Last year we had 3 600 cases of identity fraud and this year we could top 4 000. They are ghosts,” said ­McLoughlin.

She said the criminals use an ID, often changing the photo, and open bank accounts, purchase on credit and take loans. The crime has increased by more than 200% in six years.

“The organisations targeted now have an added challenge as there are cases where the so-called victim works with the criminals and then claims their innocence,” said McLoughlin.

Hillcrest PI Rick Crouch said the SAPS is not adequately equipped to handle this type of crime, but he said it is made easier because South Africans do not destroy their documents properly.

“People in this country are careless. Most people throw away documents with their bank account details or other personal data. Nine out of 10 times when your data is stolen you won’t even know it has happened. It is a multi-billion-rand industry with details stolen by cartels and sold to third party vendors often online in the dark web,” said Crouch.

He said the attitude “it won’t happen to me” is misplaced.

“I have had a spike in enquires in recent weeks. While the theft of identity won’t cost you in the short term it is the long-term cost that could be dear. You have to be removed from being blacklisted by credit bureaus, prove the transactions weren’t yours and in some instances even change your identity number.”

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) said the developments in card fraud have pushed the banking industry to look at better ways of safe-guarding against fraud.

“Banks are continuously looking at innovation and improved security measures. Already biometric technology is being rolled out in some bank branches and we expect that the extended use will increase in the near future,” said Sabric spokesperson Kanyisa Ndyondya.

• Have you been a victim of identity theft? Share your story. E-mail

What to watch out for

• Identity thieves may shoulder-surf when you are entering your pin at an ATM.

• Dumpster diving — criminals rooting through your rubbish.

• Phony websites that look identical to authorised banks.

What you can do

• Shred your documents.

• Don’t hand out your personal details to anyone.

• Don’t provide sensitive information over the Internet.

• Check your credit reports regularly

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