281107 Christmas decorations at Southgate shopping mall.01 Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Shopping malls start putting up tinsel and playing Christmas carols as early as September to put us into the silly season spending mood ridiculously early.

I even heard a rendition of Auld Lang Syne in my local Shoprite. Hell, why don’t they just put out the Valentine’s cards?

The premature festive cues should serve as a warning to shoppers that it’s not just the retailers who are after their money – criminals are on the prowl for healthy Christmas takings too.

Ask Wisaal of Cape Town, who wants her full name withheld.

Her cellphone and wallet were stolen from her handbag while she was trying on shoes at a shop in Canal Walk last week.

Wisaal asked me not to reveal the shop’s name, “as I don’t want to generate negative publicity for the company”.

That makes a change – usually I get e-mails from in-store victims wanting to know why the store is not paying for their loss.

“I had just read your article about consumers being robbed inside a store,” Wisaal wrote, “and I remember thinking: ‘This is not something I want to happen to me’.”

Well, no armed gunmen stormed into the store – her thieves were more subtle.

“I had left my handbag next to my daughter, who was seated on the couch in the shoe department. As I turned around from looking in the mirror, I noticed a young couple also trying on shoes, but the woman had sat down in the exact spot I had been sitting a minute before. I was irritated, but did not get a sense of imminent danger.

“As I tried on another pair of shoes, I noticed another couple sitting almost on top of my daughter, and still I didn’t think anything strange was going on. I then went to another shoe rack two rows down, and when I returned to the couch I noticed the flap of my handbag was open.

“That was when I discovered my cellphone and wallet were missing.”

The store’s security footage captured the thieves in action, and the centre’s security department was notified, Wisaal said.

“The store’s staff were great – they helped me block all my bank and store cards.”

Wisaal is unsure whether she was followed from a nearby ATM where she had drawn money before entering the store, or whether the thieves were already in the shop, looking for an opportunity to steal.

She has resigned herself to the loss of her possessions, but is concerned about falling victim to identity fraud.

And so she should be – it is rife.

Having got hold of their victim’s ID number and other personal details, fraudsters open accounts in the victim’s name and run up huge debts. As a result, the victim lands up with a tarnished credit record.

“My ID was not stolen, but my driver’s licence was, and it contains my ID number,” Wisaal said.

I suggested she take the precaution of registering her details with the SA Fraud Prevention Service.

The organisation provides a shared database to member organisations in the financial services industry, and offers people a way to protect themselves against impersonation and identity theft, claiming to have successfully prevented more than R5 billion in attempted fraud since its inception in 2001.

Between 2009 and 2011, 5 940 South Africans were recorded as victims of impersonation on the service’s (SAFPS) database.

People aged between 30 and 40 and living in Gauteng are most at risk of ID fraud, according to the service.

If you’ve recently applied for a job and submitted your payslip, a copy of your ID and other details with your application, or lost your ID or driver’s licence or had it stolen, you’re strongly advised to do two things: check your profile at the credit bureaus – you are entitled one free check a year – and register your details with the SA Fraud Prevention Service’s protective registration.

This triggers an alert when someone presents your ID number and other personal details with a credit application.

To register with the service, e-mail [email protected] or call 086 010 1248.

Of course, it means you’re going to have to go to extra lengths to prove you’re really who you say you are when you try to apply for credit – by carrying extra identification – but it’s a small price to pay.

ID fraud factbox

If you discover that your ID has already been fraudulently used, and you’re listed on the credit bureau as a result, file a report at your nearest police station.

Ask for a copy of your signed affidavit and keep a record of the case number.

Take all your ID documents, plus other relevant documents and information that you obtained from the SAPS and credit bureau, to the company where the fraudster opened an account in your name, to prove your real identity and innocence.

Ask the company to clear your name and bad payment profile at the credit bureau.

Then apply for the SA Fraud Prevention Service’s protective registration.

Pretoria News