Identity (ID) theft is one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide – with millions of people having fallen victim to it, and financial costs of the crime running into billions of dollars. ID theft occurs when criminals steal your personal information and use it for their own benefit – without your knowledge or permission. By using your information, the thief poses as you and can empty your bank accounts, get new credit cards, obtain loans, open up new accounts, or run up high charges on your existing accounts – all in your name. In some cases, thieves even use your information to attain new ID documents – which they use to conceal their own identities.
For identity theft to occur, the thief needs to have private information about you – such as your ID number, banking or credit card details, postal address, phone numbers, email address, and signature. Identity thieves use numerous methods to get this information, such as:
The thieves then use your information for fraudulent activities – most commonly financial transactions such as purchasing items on your credit cards or opening accounts in your name.
ID theft usually occurs without the victim knowing and often it’s only a year later when victims realise what’s happened – when credit applications are denied, debt collectors demand payment for unpaid bills, or a court summons arrives. In some cases, people have even been imprisoned for crimes committed using their identities.
Aside from the financial losses incurred and the damage to a victim’s reputation and credit history, ID theft can also be emotionally draining and time-consuming – with the sheer effort needed to recover from the fraudulent activities of the thief.
To make things worse, many victims of ID theft report that the person who stole their identity is actually someone they know – such as a neighbour, roommate, or co-worker.
Because we live in an information-driven age, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of ID theft. However, there are guidelines you can follow to severely reduce the chances of becoming a victim:
If you’re the victim of identity theft, the very first thing you need to do is report the case of fraud to the police and obtain a case number – as soon as possible. This will assist you when dealing with banks and retailers that the thief has used under your name and will also help you navigate your way through the legal system.
It’s also important to report the fraud to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) (Helpline: 0860 101 248). If your ID book and other sensitive documents have been lost or stolen, register them with the SAFBS via phone (011 867 2234), email or online web form.
In cases of financial fraud, you can also contact the Credit Ombudsman to resolve disputes with credit providers or agents.
In all cases, keep printed copies of all documentation related to your case.