10 tips to minimise risks of identity theft

As banks advance with new technologies to fight bank-related fraud, fraudsters are resorting to more subtle ways of stealing personal information so as to perpetrate identity-related fraud.

In the past, criminals focused on stealing ID books so they could replace the photograph and impersonate the victim when applying fraudulently for products or services. They are now collecting diverse personal information, whether it’s an email address or a phone number, and then using this information collectively to take over customer identities.  What is worse is that most of this information is freely shared by bank consumers, without being aware that it can be used by criminals to defraud them.

The role out of the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) biometric verification solution by several banks has made it difficult for criminals to commit identity fraud using tampered ID books as banks can now verify the identity of their clients using their biometric fingerprints.  Criminals are aware that they will now be detected through the HANIS verification solution should they present a tampered ID book.

While it remains extremely important to safeguard your ID document, it is important to know that other personal information is also a valuable commodity for criminals, especially in light of the success of the HANIS biometric verification solution.  Personal information also includes your driving licence, physical address, telephone numbers, email addresses, passwords, PIN’s and any other information that can uniquely identify you.

Criminals also trawl the internet to gather odd bits of information about their victims

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) alerts consumers to other ways that criminals go about gathering personal information in order to impersonate their victims.  One of the more subtle ways in which criminals collect information is through social engineering tactics.  They would call their victim, pretending to be from the bank and trick them into disclosing confidential information like passwords and PINs over the phone.  Emails purporting to be from the bank are also common and of late, some of these emails also have malware attached to them.  Once the malware is installed onto the computer of the victim, the malware steals sensitive information and sends it to the criminals. Criminals also trawl the internet to gather odd bits of information about their victims that they then piece together to form a profile of the victim. While the individual bits of information may be useless in isolation, having a profile of the victim enables the fraudster to step into the shoes of the person being impersonated.

Social media platforms are a valuable source of information for criminals as many consumers have more personal information on their Facebook profile for example, than necessary. “People should be very aware that personal details such as names of their children, their birthdays and their whereabouts, for example, which they post on social media,  could be abused by criminals,” said Pillay, CEO of SABRIC. Other ways in which fraudsters attempt to steal bank customer’s information is by creating fake competitions, directing consumers to spoofed websites and intercepting emails to gain access to private information.

Information gathered using these tactics is then either used to trick the victim into disclosing even more sensitive information that is used to impersonate the victim in fraudulent activities.

The theft of personal information has  resulted in a number of South Africans being defrauded with some only finding out that they have been a victim of identity theft when they apply for new credit facilities such as home and car loans.  “Identity theft can happen to anyone and is costly to remedy once your credit profile has been affected.  This is why it is important for consumers to stay abreast of how identity fraud trends change so that they can protect themselves” said Pillay.

Identity theft can happen to anyone and is costly to remedy once your credit profile has been affected

The South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS) has managed to save its members, which include the banks, more than R8-billion in fraud preventions through early detection of identity fraud.  The SAFPS believes more monies could be saved if bank customers were more vigilant in protecting their personal information.

Why do criminals steal personal information?  “They do this so that they can fraudulently access monies or credit facilities that their victims qualify for,“ explained Pillay.

Follow these 10 tips to minimise the risk of falling victim to identity theft:

  • Make sure that all your accounts have strong passwords that are not easy to decipher
  • Don’t disclose personal information such as passwords and PINs when asked to do so by anyone via telephone, fax or even email
  • Shred all documents that contain your personal information and do not throw away anything that someone else could use to impersonate you
  • Avoid carrying unnecessary personal information in your wallet or purse
  • Be selective with the type of information that you share on social media sites and make use of strict privacy settings
  • Do not get taken in by scammers who send messages telling you that you have won a prize, or inherited monies as they could be trying to defraud you
  • Store personal and financial documents safely and always lock them away
  • Don’t use Internet Cafes or unsecure terminals such as hotels and conference centres to do your banking
  • Should your ID or driving  licence be stolen, report it to the SAPS and the SAFPS immediately
  • To prevent your ID from being used to commit fraud, if it is ever lost or stolen, you should alert the SAFPS on 0860 101 248 or at safps.org.za
Earl Baillache

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