Identity theft costing South Africans millions

IDENTITY theft is on the rise. It is far more common than people think and it costs the economy about R1-billion each year.

Fraudsters have become sophisticated, making it impossible to prevent the fraud before it occurs.

About 20 cases are reported in South Africa every day, African Bank has confirmed.

And still the same bank has not made it difficult forfraudsters to acquire loans from them since its system is designed to automatically approve loans for government employees.

Lindiwe Mokoena, a government employee of Spruitview Gardens, is one of the people who has been a target of fraudsters at African Bank.

Someone fraudulently applied for a loan of R39000 using her details.

Mokoena's problem started a year ago in a car hijacking incident in which she also lost her handbag with all her valuable documents in it.

She said though she had reported the incident at a local police station, that did not stop the fraudsters from taking a loan using her personal details.

Mokoena said African Bank did not do an affordability check because they would have seen that she did not qualify for that much of a loan amount.

She said the bank did not even ask the applicant to provide proof of residence as per FICA requirements. When the bank did not receive payments for the loan, it was quick to list her name at the credit bureau as a bad payer.

"I almost had a heart attack when their official called to demand the money from me," Mokena said.

She said the bank had paid the loan amount into a Nedbank account she did not know but were adamant she was the recipient.

After trying numerous times to resolve the issue with out success, Mokoena approached Consumer Line for assistance.

Thanks to its intervention, Mokoena no longer owes African Bank.

Consumer and sustainability advocate at African Bank Marilyn Budow confirmed that Mokoena was a victim of identity theft and that the b ank had cleared the account which was fraudulently opened.

African Bank also notified the credit bureau to remove all the adverse information that was loaded on to Mokoena's profile.

Budow says identity theft was committed in different ways.

Some identity thieves sift through trash bins looking for bank account and credit card statements.

Other more high-tech methods involve accessing corporate databases to steal lists of customer information.

"Once they have the information they are looking for, identity thieves can ruin a person's credit rating and the standing of other personal information," she said.

Many types of identity theft can be prevented. One way is to continually check the accuracy of personal documents and deal promptly with any discrepancies.

As the white-collar crime of choice, identity theft is fairly easy to pull off, Budow said.

  • Students are not immune from identity theft.

Nomkhosi Miya, 31, is another victim of identity theft.

Her identity was stolen when she was 16 years old.

Nearly two decades later, she could not separate herself from a financial past created before she was old enough to drive.

She could not buy a car because of a debt she did not know.

Her life has been a misery.

She recently received a letter from a bank that was threatening to sue her for defaulting on a student loan she never took. She owes a hospital for an ambulance service she never received. She too was cleared after being in contact with Consumer Line.

Budow's advice to the consumer is to follow these tips to be safe rather than sorry:

  • Safeguard your ID book and passport. If you lose them or they are stolen, report the theft to the police immediately and register for the South African Fraud Prevention Services. Registration is free.

But in order to register you will have to supply a case number from the SAPS.

  • Check and double-check your bank statements and your credit card statements every month and investigate anything suspicious immediately.

Unauthorised activity will show up on statements.

If your credit card is stolen, report this immediately and close the account.

  • Do not carry extra credit cards.

If you have accounts you don't use, rather close them than allow them to remain open and inactive.

  • Don't simply throw away papers, statements or documents listing your personal personal or financial details - shred them or tear them up.