Identity theft is a crime that has plagued humans for a long time. Although technology has exacerbated this in the internet era, criminals can just as easily gain sensitive personal information using ancient methods. I am especially paranoid about this and shred every single bank slip and document that contains personally identifiable information.
According to Manie van Schalkwyk, CEO of the SAFPS (The South African Fraud Prevention Service) identity theft reports to their organisation is up by 55% in 2017.
In light of this staggering statistic, what can consumers do to protect themselves?
Being Security Savvy
- Store all your personal documents locked away.
- Check your bank statements every month.
- Do not give your bank PIN number or online password to anyone.
- If you can, use a new email account that is separate from your personal email account. Link this to your banking profiles. Use this only to access and retrieve your banking.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your financial profiles. This is where a temporary password is generated for the specific transaction, for instance, a one-time PIN.
- Always opt-in for SMS notifications.
- Register with a credit bureau, like TransUnion to do a credit check on yourself. Doing this you will be able to detect if any financial loans or products have been taken out in your name without your knowledge. You can do this for free once a year. Also, register for credit alerts on these services in case something changes on your credit profile.
- If a call centre agent phones you, make sure you are speaking to a legitimate representative of the company and that their reason for asking your information is justified. Never give away your personal information to any call centre agent, in particular, your online profiles’ passwords and banking one-time PINs. Never divulge this via any means including email or any form of communication.
- If your ID or driver’s licence is stolen, it is essential to report it to the SAPS immediately.
What Not To Do
- Never keep personal information in your wallet, purse or handbag. In 2018 I had found a lost wallet in my area whilst running. I was able to contact the owner via their email address which was written down on a piece of paper including their email password. This helped to get hold of them, but in the wrong hands, could have been used to reset banking passwords or receive one-time banking PIN passwords. Rather write these down somewhere at home if you have to.
- Don’t throw out documents with your personal information into the rubbish. Sensitive information such as bank account numbers and ID numbers are gold for criminals digging in your rubbish bags. These documents should be shredded. Use scissors to cut the parts with your sensitive information into tiny pieces if you don’t have a shredder. An ID number and a correct address used together can be a powerful weapon to steal your identity.
- Use strong passwords on all your accounts.
- Change your password regularly, this is a pain but it is essential if you are paranoid about security.
- As mentioned above, it is always better to never write down your passwords. Keep them memorised.
- Do not use personally identifiable information as part of your password, ie. your birthday or name.
- If you have been a victim of identity theft or attempts at stealing your identity, do not reuse any of the information that the criminals have obtained. Some sites require you to provide security questions to identify yourself. Use obscure personal information that you haven’t used anywhere else to identify yourself.
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Internet Usage and Public Wifi hotspots
- Never use a public computer to do your internet banking. The same goes for public wifi hotspots. Never access any service where your identity or credentials could be compromised when you are connected to a public wifi hotspot.
- Be very selective of what you post on social media. Remember – this is a public platform and posting personal information puts you at risk. Never post your address, phone number, ID number or email address anywhere. This includes photos or screenshots. Blur out your vehicle registration number if you post a picture of your car.
If you are a victim of identity theft, civil society has come up with a solution to combat this scourge. The non-profit organisation SAFPS can help consumers that have fallen victim to this type of crime.
For more information: https://www.safps.org.za