How to keep your identity safe in a time of crisis

COVID-19 has affected our lives in many ways. One of the threats is a huge increase in the number of hackers who are using the pandemic to try and steal your money, your personal information, or both.

At TransUnion, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of cybercriminals using the virus as a screen for their activities. They send emails and text messages from seemingly legitimate organisations with information about COVID-19, are offering giveaways or special offers. Once you click on the links in emails or text messages, you unknowingly download software which allows the hackers to take control of your computer to access your personal information and financial data, which could lead to identity theft. Through fake websites, they try and scam people into buying counterfeit or non-existent products, and then disappear with your money.

Identity theft is a huge problem in South Africa. According to TransUnion research, nearly half of South African consumers have either fallen victim to identity theft, or know someone who has. The problem with identity theft is that victims typically only find out about the theft months later – by which time someone can easily have obtained false lines of credit and racked up significant debt in their name.

To avoid turning the lockdown into a long and stressful fight to reclaim your stolen identity, follow these tips to protect yourself against identity theft.

Never click on a link, or provide sensitive information

Phishing is a major part of identity theft and fraud. You’ll get an official-looking email from a bank or information provider, offering you information or asking you to verify some aspect of your account. Don’t do it. No reputable company will ever ask you to verify details in an email. Never click on any link in an email, no matter how legitimate it looks.

Stick to legitimate sites for online shopping

The lockdown has seen a surge in online shopping, as people look to buy everything from groceries to books to airtime. Check that there’s an ‘https’ in the web address and an icon of a locked padlock on the left side of the URL. The ‘s’ stands for secure and means the site can be trusted. Don’t just click on links in mails offering you ‘too-good-to-be-true’ deals: check it out first.

Secure your online identity now

Make sure you have strong passwords for important accounts such as your banking, online shopping and email. Change them regularly and don’t use the same password for all your online profiles. Where possible, use two-factor authentication to make it harder for scammers to gain access to your accounts.

Keep checking your transaction alerts

The best way to check if your identity and credit are safe is to check your bank and card statements and credit reports. Fraudsters are especially active at a time of crisis, when people are distracted. Until the end of May, TransUnion is offering a Free Credit Score, Report and Profile alerts. These alerts notify you of any critical changes in your credit profile, or signs of suspicious activity, such as accounts that you don’t recognise or credit checks from companies with which you’ve never done business.

In this stressful time, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s real or not. Stay safe out there – both physically and online.