Keep private info safe

CONSUMERS be warned: fraudsters do not need to break into your house to obtain your personal information.

CONSUMERS be warned: fraudsters do not need to break into your house to obtain your personal information.

They can search through dustbins and intercept personal information shared on the Internet. The information can then be used to open accounts and run up huge bills in your name.

Criminals can also eavesdrop on conversations when unsuspecting consumers give credit card numbers over the phone.

Consumer Line recently took up the case of Bongani Tlhabakoe, who claimed he had been unfairly blacklisted by Blue Sands Trading 58cc trading as Asserts Control Systems.

Blue Sands collects debts for Tofo, a pre-paid public phone company that closed down about five years ago, Tlhabakoe said.

Tlhabakoe had a two-year contract with them and ran the full term but then abandoned the business without notifying the service provider.

Tlhabakoe insisted he did not owe Tofo anything, but seven years later,he discovered he had been blacklisted by the company, which claimed he owed it R13000. He disputes the signature appearing on the copy of the contract.

"I have never stayed at the address supplied to Tofo and, worst still, I have never lost my ID, which I would have reported as stolen or lost had that happened," Tlhabakoe said.

"There was no way Tofo would have delivered their machinery without being paid in full, so there was no need for them to pursue me for further payment since we were also delivering a pre-paid service.

"The signature does not correspond with mine on any of the contracts, but Tofo felt the need to blacklist me."

The debt collector asked him for a specimen of his signatures on documents he signed before and he provided it. But the collector refused to remove his name from the blacklist.

"As a result of this unjustified listing I am losing on possible job opportunities and) will not be able to finance my daughter's education," he said.

His new employer expects him to have a vehicle, but he cannot buy one because he has bad information against his name.

Tlhabakoe lodged a complaint with the credit bureau, Trans-union, asking it to remove his name from the list but this was not done either.

Consumer Line asked Alda Seicker of Blue Sand about Tlhabakoe's complaint. Though she promised the company would investigate the matter, she also immediately told Tlhabakoe to get an attorney since she did not recognise the media as a dispute resolution agent.

"With all the relevant information available to us, we suggest you get yourself an attorney so that we can start communicating with him-her immediately and try to resolve this matter as soon as possible and in a meaningful way," she wrote to Tlhabakoe, just 15 minutes after speaking to Consumer Line.

But consumers need to know that there is also a credit ombudsman who can investigate cases of unfair blacklisting.

Credit ombudsman Manie van Schalkwyk said his office would deal with Tlhabakoe's case but must first give Trans-union 20 working days to investigate and rectify the matter.

The credit ombudsman has jurisdiction over credit bureaux and their subscribers.

Meanwhile, the Standard Bank risk information centre advices consumers to protect themselves against identity theft and fraud by:

lManaging personal information wisely;

lDestroying all personal information by shredding or burning it instead of throwing papers away;

lMaking it difficult for strangers to access personal or financial information;

lPaying attention to account cycles;

lAvoiding obvious passwords like birth dates or first names;

lAvoiding carrying unnecessary information in your wallet;

lNot disclosing personal information when asked to do so by e-mail; and

lBy not writing down PIN numbers and passwords, but keeping them safe and refraining from disclosing ID numbers on websites unless you have verified the site.

Sars and the bank already know your ID numbers and will not require you to give it to them again.