Avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud

Identity fraud can take many forms - from a stolen wallet or handbag - to a document that you quite innocently throw away in the rubbish.

Identity fraud can take many forms - from a stolen wallet or handbag - to a document that you quite innocently throw away in the rubbish.

What about receiving a traffic fine in the post and the picture shows your licence plate number on someone else's car? This is identity fraud in its simplest form.

The impact that this issue can have on one can be far reaching and the inconvenience of having to sort it out and rectify the damage is usually incredibly time-consuming and involved. Fraudsters can cause a great deal of distress and damage to their victims and the victim's families.

Investigations can be very complex and it could take a long time for things to get back to normal.

There are a number of ways that we, as informed consumers, can take steps to avoid this happening to us and also to help us in becoming more vigilant.

Consider reducing the amount of paper documents or mail that you receive with your details, including bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills and so on. Rather opt to receive these electronically wherever possible. It is so simple for mail to go missing from your post box and if the truth be told, often we may not even be aware that it is missing.

Consider using a small shredder at home and in the office, whereby all documents that contain any kind of personal information are shredded when they are no longer needed, eg transaction receipts, utility bills and so on.

Many of us don't check our bank or credit card statements carefully enough. Begin to make this a habit. Check all transactions carefully, even small amounts. Fraudulent transactions for small or insignificant amounts could get lost among the rest of the transactions, but with regularity, could add up to something substantial. The size of a fraudulent debit order transaction set up against your accounts could also go undetected by the bank if the amounts are small enough.

Another good idea is to memorise all your passwords and pin numbers and, however tempting, do not use the same ones for all your accounts.

Beware of people contacting you by telephone and asking for details. Never give anyone your details over the phone. Instead, ask for their company contact details and call them back. Every now and then, fraudsters find a new way to imitate banks and correspondence from banking institutions and, as soon as these methods are discovered, new ones are thought up.

When logging on to a banking site to transact, always make sure that you are on the correct site, as "phishing" has become a huge problem.

I am not trying to give you nightmares if you throw a clothing statement away without thinking twice. I am merely trying to make you more aware of some of the issues out there.

I have read many articles and spoken to people who have had similar experiences, and it has made their lives miserable. All I am saying is beware.

l The writer is a director of Pioneer Financial Planning. Visit www.pioneer.co.za or e-mail help@pioneer.co.za