Identity theft has long-term effects – be on your guard

Remember the ‘90s movie The Net? Sandra Bullock as Angela Bennett racing against time to recover her identity while unravelling a government plot?

Fortunately, in the movie all ends well but sadly this is not the case for many people who fall victim to identity (ID) theft daily and have to deal with the long-term effects of it.

“More and more people are losing money due to ID fraud. The clever ways criminals are carrying out this fraud often makes it very difficult to detect,” says Mellony Ramalho, Group Executive: Sales, Branch Network African Bank.

So, while the concept of ID theft was pretty new in the ‘90s when The Net hit cinemas it is a common occurrence these days. Executive Director for the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), Manie Van Schalkwyk, says ID theft in South Africa has increased substantially over the last six years and is growing as more and more transactions are done electronically. “The problem is that victims usually only discover that they were the victims of ID theft once they are negatively listed for non-payment of accounts opened in their names or once their credit or loan applications are rejected,” he adds.

ID theft normally starts with a stolen or lost ID book. The victim’s photograph is usually replaced with that of the fraudster who is doing the impersonation. “Armed with a fraudulent ID book, fraudulent bank statements etc. they can apply for loans, take out contracts or even open fraudulent bank accounts,” says Ramalho.

While ID theft won’t cost you in the short term, it is the long-term cost that is the biggest issue. You have to be removed from being blacklisted by credit bureaux, prove that the transactions weren’t yours and, in some instances, even change your identity number.

“Criminals will do whatever they need to, to get your personal information. Once they set up a fake ID, they look like they are transacting as a legitimate person.”

To protect yourself from identity fraud, she offers the following advice:

  • Don’t keep any unnecessary personal information in your wallet or purse.
  • Don’t give out your personal information such as passwords and pins when asked to do so by anyone via telephone, fax or even email.
  • Don’t write down pins and passwords and avoid obvious choices like birth dates and first names.
  • Don’t use internet cafes or unsecure terminals (hotels, conference centres etc.) to do your banking.
  • Don’t be a victim of dumpster diving – where criminals dig through your rubbish to find personal information. Never throw away documents with your bank account details or other personal information without first destroying the information. 


  • Protect your personal information at all times.
  • Check your credit profile at a bureau like TransUnion, Experian, XDS or Compuscan at least once a year. This is a free service.
  • Check all requests for personal information and only give it out when there is a legitimate reason to do so.
  • Install firewall and antivirus software protection to prevent a computer virus sending out personal information from your computer.

“If, like Sandra Bullock’s character, you do become the unsuspecting victim of ID fraud you must immediately report your lost or stolen ID or driver’s license to SAPS and alert SA Fraud Prevention Service. Let’s get smart and stay ahead of these ID criminals,” concludes Ramalho.

Source: SABRIC – The South African Banking Risk Information Centre and African Bank

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