Finding purchases or transactions on your bank statements that you can’t explain? Receiving credit cards or statements for accounts that you never applied for? Denied credit for a purchase, even though your credit record is clear? Chances are that you’ve become one of a growing number of South Africans who have become victims of identity theft – and you need to act quickly to limit the damage, warns TransUnion senior director of the consumer business Garnet Jensen.
Jensen says identity theft is rife in South Africa, with nearly half of South African consumers having either fallen victim to identity theft, or knowing someone who has, according to TransUnion research.
The problem with identity theft is that victims typically only find out about the theft months later – by which time, someone can easily have obtained false lines of credit and racked up significant debt in their name.
“Generally, thieves will use the victim’s identity to purchase products and services on credit, particularly for high-end goods like electronics and luxury items,” said Jensen. “In the worst-case scenario, thieves can use your ID to apply for large value credit purchases such as vehicle finance or even commit a crime using your identity.”
Popular targets for fraudsters include retail accounts, mobile phone contracts and bank accounts, but ID thieves have also been known to intercept employment application or credit applications and use those documents to steal identities.
If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, there are several things you need to do.
- Report the theft. Immediately report the identity theft to the SAPS, and the company, bank or financial institution where the fraud occurred. For insurance fraud, contact your insurance company, and let them know that your identity has been stolen. Also make contact with the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) to register as a victim of identity theft.
- Freeze your accounts. Make sure you close your existing bank accounts and the bank accounts opened by the thief. Get new accounts and PINs.
- Protect your identity. Change your login and passwords for all of your online accounts – not just the affected ones. In fact, one of the best identity protection habits you can have is to change your email and online passwords on a regular basis. Be wary of emails and offers from unknown senders: “You don’t suddenly have a billionaire uncle overseas who has been searching for you for years and has finally found your email address,” says Jensen.
- Monitor Your Identity. Check your credit report regularly for any signs that someone might have stolen your identity. You can review your report for signs of suspicious activity, such as accounts that you don’t recognise or credit checks from companies with which you’ve never done business.
“Reclaiming your identity and cleaning up your record is a long and arduous process,” says Jensen. “It’s important for you to maintain the security of your information and manage the recovery process if your information is compromised. Early detection, using tracking products by credit bureaus, can limit the damage to your finances and credit record, giving you a better chance of reclaiming your identity.”
You have access to a free credit report once every 12 months. To find out if you have been a victim of identity theft, visit https://www.transunion.co.za/assistance/free-credit-report for a free copy of your credit report.