Durban - Identity theft is rising in South Africa with thieves costing the economy more than R1 billion every year - and KwaZulu-Natal is providing rich pickings for them.
According to a recent study by credit bureau Compuscan, 1 370 cases of identity fraud had been reported to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) by the end of April, with 17 percent of incidents occurring in KZN.
Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, has the highest amount of identity theft (48 percent) followed by KZN and Western Cape (10 percent).
And, according to Compuscan, this hike is likely to continue, with the number expected to rise above 4 000 by the end of the year.
Compuscan director, Frank Lenisa, said the trend was worrying.
“What worries us more is that consumers are often unaware that they have fallen victim to such a crime and this could have a negative knock-on effect in their ability to obtain credit in future,” he said.
According to the National Credit Regulator’s latest quarterly publication, Credit Bureau Monitor, there were 20.64 million credit-active consumers in South Africa as at the end of last year.
“Each one of these is urged to pay close attention to the threat of fraudulent activity that could affect their credit records,” Lenisa said.
Consumers usually only find out they have become victims of identity theft when checking their credit report while applying for a home loan or car finance, he said.
Carol McLoughlin, executive director at SAFPS, a non-profit fraud prevention company, said they worked with its members - comprising all the large banks, retail groups and insurance companies - to track fraud trends with the hope of preventing them.
Her organisation also offers free protection to members of the public who have become victims of identity fraud, as their ID numbers are filed on the SAFPS database under the category “Victims of Impersonation” to give them protection against further attempts at fraud.
“A copy of the innocent victim’s ID is scanned in and attached to the record, so that member companies can compare the true victim’s ID against the ID of any future applicants (impersonators/fraudsters) who attempt to use this same ID to open accounts and submit claims,” she said.
In some instances, the details of the actual impersonator can also be uploaded on to the database.
“For example the fraudster might use his or her own cellphone number and ID photo when applying for a loan or opening an account using an innocent victim’s name, ID number and address. These records are filed under the ‘Impersonator’ category on the database.”
McLoughlin could not say why KZN was experiencing the second-highest incidence of identity fraud in the country, but explained that incidents often took place in a different province to where the victim resided.
“Every day we hear about a new type of scam or method being used by fraudsters to gain access to personal information.
“At the end of the day, consumers need to be far more vigilant when giving out their personal information online and must avoid being hoodwinked into clicking on to web links that they receive via SMS and e-mail,” she said.
“They must shred unnecessary documents containing personal information and always make sure that they authenticate websites before they fill in online applications and forms.”
Compuscan urged people to check their credit report regularly, saying that every South African was entitled to one free credit report annually, according to the National Credit Act.
Despite the amount of credit-active consumers in the country, only about 14 000 request a report from Compuscan each year.
Compuscan has launched a personal online credit report portal called My Credit Check (www.mycreditcheck.co.za) that allows users with valid ID numbers to monitor their complete financial history.
Tips for consumers
* Shred all documents that contain your personal information and do not throw anything away that someone else could use to impersonate you.
* Always remain attentive at ATMs and ensure that no one is attempting to gain access to your pin number.
* Make sure all your accounts have strong passwords that are not easy to decipher.
* Never respond to an e-mail or SMS that asks you to insert or update your personal and banking information by clicking on a website link provided in the content of the message. Rather copy and paste the link into your internet browser, as this will enable you to determine whether you are accessing an authentic website, or not.
* If you receive a call from an unknown individual who requests personal information, rather offer to call them back to verify that the number they have given you in fact belongs to the correct company. Also, ask them to give you the personal information that they need to confirm, instead of providing the details yourself.
* Be very selective with the type of information that you share on social media sites and make use of privacy settings.
* Only carry identification documentation such as your passport or identity book when it’s absolutely necessary and keep these documents safely locked away when not in use.
* Do not get taken in by scammers who send messages telling you that you have won a prize, or inherited money. – Source: Southern African Fraud Prevention Service