According to TransUnion, South Africa’s largest credit bureau, identity theft is a “silent crime” and could go on unnoticed for months. In many cases the victim only finds out about it when he or she gets letters of demand and accounts that he or she knows nothing about, or when an application for credit is rejected.

Your identity can be stolen in various ways. Syndicates can intercept your bank transactions, especially through online purchases, social media, or simply by stealing your mail out of your mailbox.

Identity theft

Identity theft happens when you pretend to be somebody else so that you can get access to that person’s resources. It could have very bad consequences for the victims of identity theft if they are held liable for the transgressor’s actions. It is, however, not really possible to steal an identity, but only to imitate it. People’s Facebook profiles are regularly cloned. This cloned profile is then used to sell goods and cheat people. The biggest challenge is usually to find out how the victim’s personal information was obtained.

Criminal identity theft

This is when a swindler identifies himself to the police as another individual. Criminals get hold of government documents that do not belong to them and use them to create IDs for themselves. Charges brought against the transgressor can then be transferred to the victim’s name. Victims may only find out that this has happened when their driver’s licences expire and also when background enquiries are made for job applications. It can be very difficult for the victim to get his record clean again. The perpetrator will first have to be found and the victim will have to prove his identity by scanning his fingerprints and having DNA tests done.

Medical identity theft

This type of identity theft is very dangerous. It happens when one person wants to get medical care under another person’s identity. The victim only later sees the financial implications and totally different medical treatment on the medical records as the thief wrongfully used it. As a result of the thief’s medical history, doctors may make mistakes and not give the victim the required medical treatment. This can put the victim’s life in danger.

Financial identity theft

The most common identity theft is financial identity theft. This happens when somebody gets financial benefits under somebody else’s name, or sometimes uses the identity of somebody who has already died to claim remuneration, pension, goods and services.

Steps to protect your identity

  • Make sure that all personal correspondence stays private.
  • Tear up your personal documents before you throw them in the refuse bin.
  • Make sure that if a business prints the wrong documents, they are destroyed ─ sometimes they are simply thrown in the waste basket.
  • Beware of pickpockets who can steal your credit cards, ID and passport.
  • Watch out for cloning devices at ATMs.
  • Make sure that nobody can see when you enter your PIN.
  • Be careful not to leave your personal information on your computer where anybody can get hold of it.
  • Destroy old accounts before disposing of them.
  • Check your settings on social media.
  • Do not accept strangers on social media, for instance Facebook.
  • Do not respond to strange emails or divulge information over the telephone.
  • Use strong passwords.

TransUnion has the following hints for strong passwords:

  • Different accounts, different passwords. If the thief steals from one account, don’t make it easy to steal from all of them.
  • The first password that the crook is going to try, is 1234567890.
  • Pick something strange. Do not use your name and steer clear of real words.
  • Wrong spellings are good.
  • Use letters and numerals, the longer the better.
  • Use mnemonics, viz. “My favourite colour is green” for “mfcig”.

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