Protecting your identity

Neesa Moodley has been a financial journalist for the past 12 years. (Picture: Supplied)
Neesa Moodley has been a financial journalist for the past 12 years. (Picture: Supplied)

Identity theft is an unfortunate reality in the digital age we live in. It is no longer simply about tearing up confidential documents before you throw them in the bin. Criminals can now access your private details online and “steal” your identity within minutes, using this information to fraudulently obtain credit and run up bills in your name.  

Executive director of the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), and former credit ombudsman, Manie van Schalkwyk, says there is currently a total database of 103?000 records at his office, of which 62 000 are confirmed cases of fraud. “This has grown 8.3% year-on-year and the number of consumers who have registered with us to protect their identity documents grew 11% in the last year to 21 000,” he says.    

The SAFPS has a membership base that includes banks, retailers, cellphone companies, microlenders, insurers, and medical aid schemes – who all share information around confirmed fraud cases. The SAFPS is also able to register details of anyone who has lost their identity document or believe their personal details have been compromised. These details are then added to a shared database, which means that if anyone tries to open a new credit account with those details, the creditor immediately sees a red flag or a cautionary notice.  

“In terms of financial impact, the four large banks alone (Standard Bank, FNB, Absa and Nedbank) have saved R1.7bn (up 18.2% from the previous year) as a result of declining applications that were flagged as fraudulent,” he says. Van Schalkwyk says the ROI on this is 574 times, meaning that for every R1 the banks spend, they save R574 due to industry efforts to fight fraud.  

In terms of legislation, the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill is currently in its second draft and may be passed into legislation later this year.  

The objectives of the bill include:

  • The protection of the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data and systems. The bill makes unlawful access, interception of protected data, malware-related offences, interference with data and computer systems and password-related offences all legal offences. 
  • The criminalisation of cyber-facilitated offences including fraud, forgery, uttering and extortion, which were adapted specifically for the cyber environment.  

However, before the bill comes into legislation, you can take the following steps to ensure that your identity and personal details are protected:

  • Shred all documents that contain your personal information and don’t throw away any documents that could be used to impersonate you.
  • Make sure all your accounts have strong passwords that are not easy to guess. Passwords should consist of a combination of upper case letters, lower case letters, symbols and numbers. Don’t use the same password for all your different accounts.
  • Never respond to emails or SMSs that request your personal details, whether it is via a reply or by clicking on a link. You should rather contact the service provider directly to verify your information if required.
  • Be selective about the information you share on social media sites and check that your privacy settings are always in place.
  • Only carry your identity document and passport when absolutely necessary and keep these documents safely locked away the rest of the time.
  • Don’t fall for scams that claim you have won money or a prize, particularly if you don’t remember entering any competitions.
  • Regularly check your credit profile to ensure that it is up to date and that your details have not been fraudulently used. You are entitled to one free credit report each year. If there is a negative listing on your credit profile and it is not an account you opened, you need to complain to the credit bureau so that it can be investigated. 

Neesa Moodley has been a personal finance journalist for 12 years. You can find more of her articles on  

Important contact details

If you have been a victim of fraud or your personal details have been compromised,
you can contact the SA Fraud Prevention Service for assistance:

Telephone: 086 010 1248


SMS: Send your full name and the keywords “protect ID” to 43366. 

This is article originally appeared in the 2 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.



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