Your identity can be stolen in the time it takes to brush your teeth

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Your identity can be stolen in the time it takes to brush your teeth
You may know what identity theft is – but do you know how to protect yourself, and what to do when it happens to you?


Identity theft is more common and far simpler than you think – and the consequences can be catastrophic if the correct steps taken to immediately to take back control of your vital personal information. An identity thief can gain access to vital information about you by simply tracking down your ID number.


This allows them to harvest your basic information, and from there it’s a few short jumps to obtaining a credit card with your name on it, withdrawing money from your bank account or opening store and cellphone accounts – and potentially running up hundreds of thousands of Rands in debt, that you could find yourself liable for.


Identity theft affects nearly 1 in 2 South Africans

TransUnion research showed that 49% of South African consumers have either been a victim of ID theft, or know someone who has. Of the 11% who had been victims, 28% said their identity theft occurred as a result of physical theft, 18% identified an online breach and 10% had no idea how their identity was stolen.


Broadly speaking a victim’s identity is compromised in four ways. The first and most obvious, is where their personal identity documents are physically stolen. The second method, is where these documents are intercepted by a fraudster, typically as part of a legitimate application process. Thirdly, a victim’s personal details may also be compromised online by hackers accessing corporate and personal online systems and accounts.


The fourth category of breach is typically referred to as a phishing scam, where a victim unwittingly supplies their sensitive personal and banking information to a fraudster posing as a legitimate authority or company representative. While these are increasingly being perpetrated online, through spoofed emails and company websites, many victims continue to be duped over the phone or even in person.


Aside from stealing your savings and running up massive debts in your name, identity theft can have devastating results on your credit report and score, as well as business and personal relationships, generally wreaking havoc on your life and financial wellbeing.

In addition to these impacts, the inconvenience and administrative overhead of dealing with identity theft can be significant, taking many months to resolve. Over this period, the victim can incur a number of incidental expenses such as time off work, legal fees and travel expenses.


Helpful hints for everyday action

While you can never fully secure yourself against identity theft, there are a number of actions someone can take to secure their personal identity. From an online perspective, these include:


  • Ensure 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.
  • Never respond to SMS’ or emails requesting your personal details – instead, contact the service provider directly to verify the request.
  • Pay attention to the “from” and “reply” addresses of emails you receive requesting personal and banking information. Upon close inspection, fraudulent emails will reveal discrepancies between the address and the claimed origin, for example [email protected] versus [email protected]
  • When following online links, closely inspect the address or URL at the top of your browser. In general you want to check the site is identified as “secure” by your browser. Also ensure the URL matches the claimed origin, for example versus


Offline the following steps can be taken:

  • Documents such as your ID and passport should be kept safely locked away - avoid carrying them with you unless absolutely necessary.
  • Tear up or shred your receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements and expired credit offers before you throw them away.
  • Be wary of giving your banking details, identity number or personal details over the phone, especially if the call is unexpected and they have called you.
  • When sharing personal and bank details for application purposes, ensure you are dealing with an authorised representative. Question them to understand how they will ensure your information is kept secure.


Take steps to protect your identity

If you are concerned your identity may be at risk, TransUnion has launched their TrueIdentity offering, which brings together a broad set of features and services that protects you from identity theft. More specifically the product monitors for signs of identity theft as well as helps you restore your good name and recover from financial losses, should you become a victim.


For R99 per month (or R799 per year), you get unlimited access to your credit report and score as well as a number of useful tools such as Score Reasons and Debt Analysis. In addition you will receive SMS or email alerts every time any critical changes take place on your report, helping you identify and stop identity theft in its tracks. In addition, TrueIdentity includes three powerful features which help to further protect you:


  • ID Monitor sends you email or SMS alerts when your personal information is detected on the dark web;
  • ID Restore gives you access to an expert forensic investigator to track the source of the identity theft;
  • ID Recover provides identity theft insurance cover to help you recover from the losses.


It is mportant to remember the ID Restore and ID Recover benefits are only available for identity theft events first discovered by you while your TrueIdentity subscription is active.


Should you become a victim of identity theft as a TrueIdentity subscriber, we will also assist you in registering with the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS). This service is free of charge and available even if you are not a TrueIdentity subscriber.


The SAFPS is a non-profit company committed to combating identity fraud across the financial services industry. The SAFPS provides a centralized database of victims of identity theft, as well as individuals who have registered themselves as being at risk. This allows banks and other member organizations to be extra vigilant when dealing with credit and other applications for consumers listed in the database.


If you suspect you’ve been a victim, or may become a victim of identity theft, contact the SAFPS by SMS’ing “Protectid” to 43366, free of charge and the SAFPS will contact you. Alternatively call them on 0860 101 248. They will provide a detailed process to follow to register for a Protective Registration or Victim of Impersonation listing.


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This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. You should always seek the advice of a legal or financial professional before making legal or financial decisions.