Imagine being able to have access to someone’s identity; the mischief you could manage.

Now imagine it was your identity that was taken over by some shady character…

Losing one’s wallet often leaves a sinking feeling in your stomach; knowing that you have to go through the whole process of cancelling all your bank cards and items such as your driver’s license and ID.

“While the whole process is time consuming, the issue of identity theft is the greatest concern.”

Approximately 3 600 such cases were reported last year, and it is speculated the numbers are set to increase.

Criminals usually ‘steal’ a person’s identity by using ID documents with a changed photo.

They then use that ID number to buy on credit and take out loans without repaying it. This, of course, leads to blacklisting at credit bureaus, which can take months to undo.

“Customers need to be on their guard,” said Nitesh Patel, Head of Customer Financial Solutions, Personal Banking at Standard Bank.”

“It’s easy to throw away documents containing bank account details or other personal data, not realising the implications of this action, and the long-term costs could be great. Fortunately, there are many simple ways you can protect yourself against fraud and identify theft,” he added.

In order to minimise the risk of criminals getting their hands on your personal banking information, Newcastillians are encouraged to follow the following tips:

1. Carefully dispose of expired ID items, so they cannot be reused. This includes IDs that have been reported lost, then found, or renewed or temporary driver’s licenses or passports. If you choose to keep these documents, keep them either in a safe or safety deposit box.

2. When you receive a new bank card, sign it immediately and link it to your cellphone, so you are notified when any transactions go through.

3. Report any fraud on your accounts to your bank immediately. To do this, you may be required to go to the police for a case number.

4. Keep a list of all your card numbers separate from your cards, in case your wallet or purse is stolen.

5. Never write your PIN number on your card, or keep it where your card is stored, as you may be liable for any transactions where a valid PIN is used.

6. Cut up all expired cards, because if someone gets hold of the card, they can use it in conjunction with a fake ID to get a new one.

7. Never leave your ID documents where it can be stolen, as banking fraud is not the only thing people are exposed to. Syndicates occasionally steal ID documents to obtain fraudulent marriage certificates, to allow foreigners to obtain residency in South Africa. Worse still, they could use a fake ID to get a policy on your life; making them a beneficiary should anything happen to you.

8. If your phone access should suddenly be terminated, this could be due to a fraudster having suspended your phone contract so you don’t receive texts about your bank activity. Scam artists can also organize swim swaps by repeatedly calling and hanging up, in the hope that you would switch off your phone so the swap be executed. If you receive numerous calls from an unknown number, contact your service provider to check if they have not received instructions for a sim swap.

If you suspect that your financial information has been compromised, the South African Fraud Protection Service suggests you follow these five steps:

1. Contact the fraud prevention division of the major credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert in your file, as well as request that creditors call you before opening or changing accounts. Also order copies of your credit report from the credit bureaus and check them carefully to ensure no additional accounts have been opened.

2. When a company enquires about your credit status, the bureau will record this – ask for their names to be removed, so it’s easy to check if someone has been using your name fraudulently.

3. Furthermore, contact your creditors for information on accounts that may have been tampered with. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up with a letter. It is important to follow up with credit card companies in writing, because that is the consumer protection procedure for resolving errors on credit card statements.

4. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new PINs and passwords. Avoid using easily available information, such as your mother’s maiden name or your birth date.

5. File a report at your local police station. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank or credit card company need proof of the crime.

“While anyone can fall prey to fraud or loss, being vigilant can minimise the damage. If you suspect foul play, act immediately, as it’s better to overreact than suffer the consequences of being a victim of fraud,” Mr Patel concluded.

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