Imagine waking up one morning to find an SMS alerting you that your credit card has been used to buy thousands of Rands in goods. You call your bank only to find out that your bank account has been depleted – your hard-earned cash has disappeared overnight, putting your debit orders and credit score at risk.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, while nearly half of all South Africans have either fallen victim or know of someone who has been a victim. This, according to a survey conducted by credit bureau, TransUnion, that estimates that someone’s identity somewhere in the world is stolen every two seconds.
Vera Nagtegaal, Executive Head of Hippo.co.za explains it is important that, as the prevalence of the crime increases, consumers are fully aware of the devastating effects that identity theft can have on their lives. “Consumers should arm themselves with information and take all necessary precautions to protect their personal and financial information.”
Every day we share credit card and other information about ourselves when we shop online or on social media. The more we share, the more vulnerable we become to identity theft.
Should a fraudster get hold of these personal details, such as ID documents, payslips and banking details, they can open accounts in your name and run up credit card debt on your behalf.
Nagtegaal points out that because it is a silent crime victims might only learn of such incidents by chance, for example by receiving a court summons, discovering their drivers licenses are suspended when stopped for minor traffic violations, or through background checks performed for employment purposes. “This could cost you money in legal fees and hours of valuable time to remedy the situation.”
She points out that it is vital to keep an eye out for notifications of withdrawals from your bank account that you are unaware of, or by checking your credit report for accounts you haven’t opened.
Nagtegaal also warns against phishing scams and urges consumers to exercise caution when opening unsolicited emails or sharing any details online. “It is also important to keep internet browser and security software up-to-date to help guard against these types of malware, email scams and possible software breaches.”
Smart new identity theft software are also available, which can help to keep track of credit alerts and accounts and notifies you of changes, is one such intervention.
“Being mindful of what and how you share information on social media and never giving out banking details to unverified sources can go a long way in preventing identity theft,” says Nagtegaal.
Should you become a victim to identity theft, Nagtegaal says it is important that you immediately report the crime to the police. Also notify your bank, insurance provider and any other financial institutions where you are a client, as well as the Department of Home Affairs and the Traffic and Licensing Department if your ID book, passport or driver’s license is stolen. The South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) can also be contacted to assist in registering your stolen documents and to identify fraud syndicates.
“In our fast-paced world of technological growth it has become easier for criminals to get hold of your information. Treating your personal information like the valuable asset it is will ensure you do not fall victim to identity theft,” concludes Nagtegaal.