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How do I protect myself from identity theft?

“Identity theft is not only happening to the absent-minded or careless consumer” according to Dalene Deale, Executive Head of Secure Citizen.

“As someone with a background in the financial industry, I am particularly vigilant about protecting my information and even I, armed with the know-how and knowledge, have been a victim, twice!” explains Deale.  

While it is true that there are many opportunistic fraudsters taking advantage of consumer carelessness, there are also many algorithms and bots searching for digital vulnerabilities that are not the result of carelessness, and in many cases, not even the fault of the individual.

Unfortunately, with the rise of digital and online transactions, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more and more cases of fraudsters using advanced technologies to carry out their task.  In South Africa alone, it is estimated that identity theft is costing 1.5 billion per annum, while identity theft has gone up by 365% in South Africa since last year.

How do I protect myself from identity theft?

Numerous warnings and high-risk factors may have consumers feeling nervous and defenceless, however, education is the key to preventing identity theft.

Here’s what consumers need to know:

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the crime of stealing another individual’s personal or financial information to use their identity to commit fraud, such as making unauthorised transactions or purchases in their name. Victims are typically left with damage to their credit score, finances, and reputation. Not to mention the emotional stress caused.

What are the 5 types of identity theft?

Not all types of identity theft are the same. There are 5 types of identity theft according to McAfee. Being aware of these types can help consumers stay ahead of fraudsters and be extra vigilant in the right circumstances.

Financial

This is when fraudsters use another individual’s personal information criminally for financial gain (much like the above-described examples). This is the most common form of identity theft. Financial identity theft can take multiple forms:

  • Credit card fraud

This is when a fraudster uses an individual’s credit card information to shop online.

  • Bank account hack

Sometimes even the smallest amounts may disappear from an individual’s bank account. While seemingly inconsequential, fraudsters can accumulate millions like this.

  • Account impersonation

Using another individual personal data, a fraudster may open a new account, such as a cell phone account or a clothing account. The fraudster enjoys the credit, and the victim foots the bill.

Medical

Medical identity theft is when a fraudster falsely claims to be another individual to gain health care services. This includes getting a prescription for drugs, accessing medical services (from checkups to costly surgeries), and even acquiring medical devices and supplies such as wheelchairs or hearing aids.

Ultimately, the victim is left with bills for services or items that they did not receive or need. Additionally, the victim’s medical history may have these occurrences recorded making it harder for them to receive accurate treatment in future and may even exclude them from certain medical aid benefits unnecessarily.

Criminal

Particularly intimidating, criminal identity theft is when a criminal provides law enforcement with an incorrect identity. Usually by using fake identity documents. The victim may find themselves in incredibly difficult situations, such as receiving a court summons or having a warrant issued for their arrest. It can be difficult to prove this type of fraud occurred and may leave the victim with a permanent criminal record for a crime they did not commit.

Synthetic

This is when fraudsters blend multiple people’s personal information into one new identity to utilise for financial gain (even commit financial crimes). Information such as identity number, address and birthdate may be mixed to create a fake profile. Generally, children and the elderly are vulnerable to synthetic identity theft because they rarely use their identity number.

Consumers can keep an eye out for any mail with their address on it but addressed to a different name and phone calls or mail about new credit accounts.

Child

Child identity theft involves using a minor’s information to open a line of credit or any other type of financial fraud. The fraudster could even apply for a driver’s licence, apply for government benefits, or buy a house. This may not cause much harm while the child is a minor, however, when they do become an adult and try to open a line of credit, they may find their credit score is already low and may have to endure a lengthy appeal process.

How does identity theft happen?

Due to the nature of technology and the internet, a consumer’s personal information is always at risk. If they are not carefully monitoring their credit file, they may not notice that they’ve been victimised until the damage is already done.

Here are nine of the most common ways identity thieves get hold of data:

  1. Data Breaches
  2. Unsecure Browsing
  3. Dark Web Marketplaces
  4. Malware Activity
  5. Credit Card Theft
  6. Mail Theft
  7. Phishing and Spam Attacks
  8. Wi-Fi Hacking
  9. Mobile Phone Theft

How do I know if I’ve been a victim?

Early detection of identity theft helps to correct any damage and prevent further damage caused– consumers should keep an eye out for these signs of identity theft:

  • A suspicious-looking bank statement
  • Notification of a data breach
  • Denial of credit for no reason
  • A tax return already filed
  • Calls from debt collectors
  • Usual bills vanish

Read more about the six signs of identity theft everyone should know.

What else can I do to protect myself?

Protective Registration

Protective Registration is a free service to the public to protect an individual’s identity against identity theft. The individual’s details will be added to the SAFPS (South African Fraud Prevention Services) database and be made available to SAFPS Member Organisations to assist in protecting them against future fraud.

Register for protective registration.

Protect your personal information

Discover five ways to safeguard against identity theft to ensure as much protection as possible against identity theft fraudsters.

Become a Secure Citizen

With Secure Citizen an individual’s unique biometric information will be captured and validated against the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) database. Their Digital Identity will now serve as a way of engaging with businesses and people, as well as preventing fraudsters from impersonating them.

Secure Citizen for Individuals is free (A South African first) and available to all South African citizens. A South African ID is not required.

Secure Citizen for Individuals launches soon! Sign up for the waitlist.

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Picture of Dalene Deale

Dalene Deale

Dalene Deale brings extensive experience in the financial sector, having held a variety of roles in business analysis, process engineering, corporate acquisition and fintech management. Using her passion, knowledge and expertise, Dalene previously oversaw TransUnion’s FinTech strategy, assisting them throughout their various stages of growth. Now, as the Executive head at Secure Citizen, her passion and driving force is to “empower every African with a secure, digital identity.”

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