Beware fraudsters are out to steal from you

ID theft is a big problem that can happen to anyone of us. If fraudsters open an account in your name and it is unpaid, this can result in a judgment against you.
ID theft is a big problem that can happen to anyone of us. If fraudsters open an account in your name and it is unpaid, this can result in a judgment against you.
Image: 123RF

Not letting your credit card leave your sight, not sharing too much information on your Facebook account and not readily giving out your ID number too often may not be enough to protect you from identity theft.

Credit cards can be cloned with a swipe across a sleeve, your social media photos can let criminals know you're not at home and your home ownership and loan records are publicly available through the deeds office.

"Crooks do research and there is a lot of publicly available information," Steven Powell, the head of ENSafrica's forensics department told the annual Fiduciary Institute of South Africa's conference held in Sandton recently.

Powell says if you are a victim of ID theft and fraud, the sooner you pick it up the greater your chances of not losing money, but ID theft and fraud are rife.

ID theft is the unlawful use of someone else's information.

Powell explained that the more information criminals have about you, the easier it is for them to steal your ID and commit fraud. And it's not just social media that criminals access - there is a range of easy-to-access information publicly available.

The deeds office has details of where you live (present and past) and your home loan accounts; company registers have details on directors and company owners; credit records show where you have accounts; and the eNatis system shows your vehicle ownership.

At the Master of the High Court, a criminal can find out if you are a beneficiary of a trust or estate.

Added together, this gives criminals a very comprehensive view of your life that they can use to open accounts in your name, change bank account details, and defraud you, often without your knowledge.

"Once a syndicate gets hold of your details they can pretend to be you, create authentic-looking documents to open new credit card accounts to purchase items that can be sold easily for cash," Powell said.

ID theft is a big problem that can happen to anyone. If fraudsters open a retail account in your name, but you don't know about it, and it is unpaid, this can result in a judgment against you. That can end up on your credit report, affecting your ability to get credit in future, he said.

"When you've got a financial need, and there is weak control, fraud becomes almost irresistible," he said.

Powell illustrated how one syndicate operated. On the way to a taxi rank, a call centre operator physically bumped into a gentleman.

This seemingly innocent chance meeting led to a date, exposing the call centre operator to a lavish lifestyle she had never experienced.

Within three dates she had revealed details of her work and information she had access to and was sucked into a "you can have this too, all you need to do is give us details".

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