If we don’t act now to safeguard our privacy, we could all become victims of identity theft.
– Bill Nelson
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes in South Africa. However it is not confined to only South Africa, world-wide identity theft costs the economy billions of Dollars each year. Unfortunately the cost is not confined to a monetary value; there is also an emotional cost in dealing with a damaged reputation and a negatively affected credit rating.
Identity theft takes place when your personal information (ID number, banking or credit card details, postal address, phone numbers, email address, and signature) is stolen and used by criminals without your knowledge. Often the perpetrators of identity theft are not strangers but rather people you may know personally i.e. neighbours, co-workers etc. Once they have your information they can use it to access your bank accounts, open new accounts in your name and incur charges on your existing accounts. In most instances, if you have not taken sufficient precautions, you will not know that such theft has taken place until much later when you receive letters of demand or summons for payment of accounts overdue (which you did not personally incur).
The scale of identity theft seems to be keeping pace with the ever-increasing use of technology to conduct business transaction on-line. Unfortunately the SAPS are not always sufficiently capable of dealing with such crimes. When the SAPS do manage to successfully capture and prosecute these criminals, this is generally conducted in terms of a fraud charge. Depending on the individual circumstances; the perpetrators may be found guilty of fraud, forgery and uttering a forged document. The sanction for such crime, if the amounts involved exceed R500 000, involve a prison sentence that can range from 15 to 25 years or more,. .
If you become a victim of identity theft, the first thing you need to do is report a case of fraud to the police and obtain a case number. Then report this to your bank and any retailers you deal with, making sure to cancel old cards / accounts (including accounts that the criminal opened in your name) and get new cards / accounts and PIN numbers, where applicable.
Contact the fraud units of all credit bureaus as soon as possible as well as reporting the fraud to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) (Helpline: 0860 101 248 or http://www.safps.org.za). Always keep copies of all documents relating to your case for future reference purposes.
5 Key ways to protect your identity
- Do shred all documents that contain your personal information (Do not just throw them away)
- Do keep your personal information private (Do not discuss personal information to anyone over the phone, offer to call them back to verify that the number they have given you in fact belongs to the correct company).
- Do keep your passports or identity books safely locked away (Do not leave them lying around when not in use).
- Do check your credit report regularly (This can be done for free once a year using Compuscan (021 888 6000, www.compuscan.co.za ), TransUnion(086 112 8364, www.mytransunion.co.za) or Experian (086 110 5665, www.experian.co.za))
- Do ensure that your bank sends you SMS alerts when transactions occur in your bank account.
Never be careless with you personal information
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