We are living in the digital age where your identity document is a valuable asset. You might think that your ID, your bank accounts and phone numbers are of no use to others, but this is not true.
Fraudsters are capable of wreaking havoc with these crucial bits of personal information and ruin an individual's credit record. These career criminals commit fraud by impersonating people, opening accounts and applying for loans. It is said that these illegal activities cost the global economy billions of rands each year.
"It's important to remember that fraudsters do this for a living. They spend hours figuring out how to deceive people, bypass fraud checks and steal money - and they're very good at it," says Rudolf Mahoney, head of brand and communications at WesBank.
"We have excellent systems in place to intercept fraudulent applications, but it remains difficult to catch those who commit fraud. However, it's very easy to take preventative measures that will save you a lot of money, time and trouble."
Besides card skimming and ATM scams, there are other approaches fraudsters are taking. These include:
Identity theft involves a criminal assuming a consumer's identity, through stolen personal details, for the purposes of committing fraud. Through social engineering they are able to convince credit providers to grant them loans, issue credit cards and, in extreme cases, even credit for cars or houses - all in the name of another consumer.
To the financial institutions the transaction would look legitimate, as they have all the required information on file, and the victim of the identity theft would be held liable for the debt in their name - a situation that would be disastrous for their credit record.
Undoing the damage caused by ID theft is a time-consuming process that can cost a lot of money. Unfortunately, the responsibility to notify credit providers and cancel these loans falls solely on the consumer.
Instalment takeover schemes
Some people do instalment takeover arrangements with friends when they are cash-strapped. That's illegal and highly risky. Vehicle finance contracts are between the buyer and the bank, and no third party. Consumers should be wary of any service that offers to pay their monthly instalment in return for taking possession of their financed car.
Should the third party not pay for the vehicle or abscond from paying the monthly repayments, you are still responsible for paying and you have very little recourse. Insurance companies may contest any claims on the grounds that the vehicle was voluntarily handed over. Rather, if you are in a tight corner, approach your bank and request a payment arrangement to assist in meeting repayment obligations. Alternatively, sell the car and buy an affordable one.
This can be through e-mails or text messages, with scammers offering financial products or providing false payment information. Or it can take the form of phishing: a falsified communication from a credit provider, with lookalike websites designed solely for the purpose of capturing personal information.
Not only can this leave bank accounts exposed, but it also gives more personal information to criminals. Scammers may also call you and claim to be from the banks' security department in an attempt to gather your information.
- Safely store personal information
All personal information that could be used to open an account should be stored safely. This includes ID documents, passports, payslips, bank cards and any printed documents.
- Discard information
Expired driver's licences, unused bank cards and old account statements should be shredded. Fraudsters go to dustbins searching for such information.
- Browse with caution
Don't click links in e-mails or SMSes. Go directly to the bank's website to access any information you need.