Get a shield from identity thieves

Your identity can be stolen when your laptop falls into wrong hands.
Your identity can be stolen when your laptop falls into wrong hands.
Image: 123RF

Imagine being informed that you owe three cellphone networks about R10 000 each for services you never enjoyed and you have run up an Edgars account for clothes you never bought.

This is what happened to a Johannesburg woman who fell victim to identity theft.

To avoid being a victim of identity theft, you need to protect your personal details as you would cash.

Manie van Schalkwyk, the executive director of the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), says if you do become a victim, you can apply for protective registration on their database.

Van Schalkwyk says the database already has about 25 000 records and the benefit of listing your details on the database is that it can help prevent further financial damage caused by fraudsters.

Van Schalkwyk says that all member organisations, including banks, clothing and furniture retailers, and some insurance companies have access to the SAFPS database and any identity theft or fraud will be flagged.

Information on the database serves as a warning for them to take extra care to validate that they are dealing with the genuine ID holder and not a possible fraudster.

The first time a person realises they have fallen victim to identity theft is when they get a call from a debt collector, says Van Schalkwyk.

As the rate of identity theft rises, consumers are asking how information becomes available to companies and people marketing goods and services that they have no knowledge of requesting.

According to the Protection of Information Act, marketing by means of unsolicited e-mail is prohibited unless certain provisions apply and organisations need to implement opt-in and opt-out strategies.

While organisations may try their best to protect you by only using your personal information "for the purpose agreed with your customers and employees," under the act, noncompliance by companies can lead to your information falling into the wrong hands, van Schalkwyk says.

According to Van Schalkwyk there are several ways in which your personal information can be obtained by fraudsters.

Many individuals sign up for offers, subscriptions and entertainment without a thought to the consequences, and social media is another mining opportunity for fraudsters because privacy settings are not understood or applied.

Van Schalkwyk warns that you should also take care when responding to e-mails requesting information updates because that can be used to apply for goods and services that you do not intend paying for or using.

Your identity can be lost or stolen or compromised as a result of losing your phone or your laptop.

There are other ways fraudsters get your information, namly through data leaks - such as the one involving grant recipients who were subsequently targeted by people selling loans and also when hackers infiltrate a company's information.

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