Identity theft is probably the fastest growing crime in the world, and South Africa has not been left behind. Every year, millions of people find themselves victim.
At its core, it involves criminals stealing your personal information without your knowledge and using it for their own benefit, mostly financial.
With your identity, the thief can pose as you in many places particularly online, and empty your bank accounts, purchase expensive items, obtain credit card loans and not only leave you broke, but also deep in debt.
For this to be possible, a thief would need to know things like your full name, ID number, date of birth, residential address, phone number etc.
How your identity gets stolen
Here are five ways bad players get a hold of your identity.
1. The easiest way to steal your identity is simply by stealing the physical documents from you, with or without your knowledge. This can be a thief snatching your wallet on the street, or a family member or friend stealing your details at home, or a thief going through your trash and finding sensitive documents.
2. Skimming your social media posts and profile can also provide valuable information to thieves. Nowadays, people freely give up every detail about their lives on Facebook and Instagram. This has left bad players hitting the literal jackpot.
3. Social engineering. This is where a thief hacks your social life, using manipulative and deceptive methods such as impersonating your landlord or boss, to get your personal information.
4. Hacking into your computer or phone. This is perhaps what comes to most people’s mind when they hear of identity theft. Your devices can be hacked in many ways, the most common being using malware downloaded unknowingly from the internet. These can be embedded in innocent looking files like PDF or even movies. These malware can either copy already stored personal details and send them to the thieves’ server, or they can act as a keylogger, registering every thing you type and click on your device, including passwords, addresses and even credit card numbers.
5. Perhaps the easiest way to acquire someone else’s identity is simply buying it. On the dark web, full details of someone’s life are sold for just a few dollars. It a very illegal activity, often transacted in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
How to check if your identity has been stolen in South Africa
The easiest way to know that your identity has been compromised, especially when it comes to banking, is to activate mobile alerts whenever there is a transaction on your bank account.
If you have reasons to believe that someone may be using your details say, to open new bank accounts, a service like ClearScore can help you get to know for sure.
Even better, the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), when informed of your suspicion, will put some form of a moratorium on your name and details. Their fraud prevention service alerts lenders to the fraud, and they will henceforth take extra care when dealing with applications in your name.
How to prevent identity theft
1. The best way to prevent your identity from being compromised is by taking extreme care of your important documents. You should always protect your ID card, bank documents, etc. and ensure that they never get into the wrong hands. Any important documents that must be discarded should first be burned or shredded.
2. Activate alerts especially from banks. This will notify you when the first fraudulent transaction happens, and thus you will be able to stop further theft.
3. Use strong passwords on the internet. Your Netflix password should not be your bank password. Basically, don’t use the same password on every site you sign up on the internet. Many of these sites have wanting security, and it is not rare for hacks to expose all these passwords. Once that happens, it is not hard for determined thieves to work around and use the same credentials to access more vital accounts.
A service like Have I been pawned can let you know whether your email has appeared on any publicly reported data breach.
4. Stop downloading pirated content. Many of these premium software or movies that are offered free of charge on the dark web or on torrent websites are often not ‘free’. A good of them come coupled with programs that will log in your every detail.
Try and use legitimate and official means to download everything.
Many South Africans are still not aware of the dangers of identity theft. While millennials and younger Gen Z may be more knowledgeable, most of the older generation is still stuck on the notion that an ATM card is worthless without a pin number.
Educating them on such matters is important if the tide is to be turned.