Protecting yourself from identity theft
How to stay safe and stop cyber criminals from stealing your data
Identity theft is an increasing problem with South African consumers becoming more ‘relaxed’ with their personal information. Identity theft costs businesses over R1 billion a year and the perpetrators are rarely caught. Criminals use a stolen identity to open fake bank accounts, purchase on credit and take out loans. Over the past 6 years, the number of identity theft cases has increased by more than 200%. The number of cases and the cost to South African businesses are expected to continue to increase as more transactions are done electronically.
Having your identity stolen can cause emotional and financial distress, as well as having a future impact on your ability to get loans, credit cards or even a mortgage if the situation is not resolved. It is important to be careful with your personal information to make sure it does not get into the wrong hands.
What personal information can criminals use? Someone could be successful in stealing your identity by obtaining information that is unique to you. The most common types of personal information are:
- The ID number of driver’s license
- Credit card information
- Banking details including chequebooks and bank cards and PIN numbers
- Telephone records
- Household bills
Reducing the likelihood of Identity theft
- You should make sure that the correct firewalls are set up on your computer, tablet and/or smartphone to ensure your personal data is not easily accessible.
- Make sure that any website where you provide personal information is secure and starts with ‘https’. This includes online transactions and banking.
- Make sure you log out of all personal accounts when using a shared computer. Leaving the computer logged into such things like your online banking can leave you at risk of fraud.
- Carefully consider what information you disclose on the Internet, including business websites, social networks and online chat rooms. Openly providing personal details online can leave you at risk of identity theft.
Phishing emails and scams
- Your banking institution will never send you an email asking for personal information. If you receive an email like this, it is most likely not genuine and from a non-friendly source. Do not click on links or enter passwords as you could be giving your personal details to criminals. If you do receive such an email and you are unsure of if it is genuine, contact the bank directly to confirm.
- ‘Getting to know you’ emails are another ploy used to collect personal information.
- Be careful entering online competitions or answering surveys, as these can be another way fraudster will attempt to collect your personal information. Check the source of the competitions and be wary of non-secure connections again.
Over the phone
- Be considerate of who you disclose personal information to over the phone. Make sure you know the source, why they need the information and what the information will be used for.
- Make sure you keep your PIN secure and cover keypads when using your PIN to make transactions.
- It is recommended that you shred all documents containing personal information rather than bin them. Your rubbish is a good source of information, so make sure information is unreadable.
- All personal documents filed should be stored securely so they are not easily stolen.
- Do not carry all your personal documents on you at one time. You will typically need one or two pieces of personal information to handle daily transactions. The rest of your information should be stored away securely.
Old Electronic Devices
- Delete all personal information from the hard drive and stored files of all electronic items before you resell, return or bin them.
- Check your bank and credit card accounts regularly for irregular transactions. Contact your bank or card provider immediately if you see a transaction you did not carry out.
- View your updated credit report regularly to see if anyone has applied for loans, credit cards or bank accounts in your name. You will be able to see what institutions have checked your credit file, which they will do if you (or someone pretending to be you) have applied for finance.
What if you are a victim of identity theft?
Unfortunately, even if you are careful with your personal information, you may still fall into a personal identity theft trap. If you become aware of irregular activity on your accounts or see faulty inquiries on your credit report, here are the steps you should take:
- Report the incident to the police.
- Inform your bank and insurance providers. Ask the provider to deactivate your bank or credit cards if they have been stolen
- If you have a stolen document report it to the issuer. E.g. Department of Home Affairs for passports and ID books and the Traffic and Licensing Department for driver’s licenses.
- Contact the post office if you suspect your post has been stolen or tampered with.
- Contact the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) for further assistance on 0860 101 248.