What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a common problem throughout the world and South Africa is no exception. Identity theft is defined as getting access to personal or financial information of persons for the purpose of assuming a person's identity to make fraudulent purchases or other transactions on the assumed person's name.

Identity theft can be committed in many ways. A few examples are; looking through bins for any bank account or credit card statements or accessing company databases in order to steal a list of stored customer information.

All the identity thief needs are your name, identity number, phone number, and address. Once the criminals have the personal information they are looking for, they can ruin a person’s credit score and any good standing they may have built up over the years.

Ways in which identity thieves get your personal information

As with the examples above, identity theft may resort to what is known as shoulder surfing, or looking over your shoulder as you enter your PIN into an ATM machine. Identity thieves also set up phony websites in order to gain access to a victim’s personal information.

Once the phony website is set up, the thieves will send out thousands of automated phishing emails pretending to be from your bank requesting the potential victim to update their banking details. These email links divert to the phony website which is identical to the bank's website. The information that is then entered i.e. identity number, login details, and passwords are captured onto the thieves’ database enabling them to have full access to your bank account.

How much is it costing South Africa?

It is believed that identity theft is costing South Africa in excess of R1 billion per year. The main targets of identity thieves are males between the ages of 30 and 40 years old. As more and more financial transactions are done online, identity theft is on the rise.

What can I do to protect myself?

There are many ways for a person to protect themselves against identity theft.

  • Never give your identity number to anyone, this includes the unnecessary copying of your identity document.
  • Shred or destroy all documents that you are throwing out.
  • Remember, your bank will never send you an email requesting you to update or verify your personal or banking information. If you do receive an email from your “bank”, delete it immediately, and do not reply to the email as they will then know that the email address is valid and they can use it for criminal activity.
  • Avoid leaving mail in the mailbox. If at all possible, rather use a post office box for your mail correspondence.
  • It is advisable to do a credit score check on a regular basis to see if there has been any unusual activity. Any discrepancies you pick up may be the result of identity theft.
  • Do not upload any sensitive data to the internet via any means of websites or social media.
  • If you do happen to lose your identity document, or any debit or credit cards, you must report it to the police or the banking institution you belong to for steps to be taken to prevent any identity theft.

Identity theft in South Africa is a major concern. As we as a country become more and more connected online, we are putting ourselves at risk of identity theft. By exercising caution in our everyday lives and being vigilant you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim of this criminal activity.