Identity Theft A South African Reality

Adv Randolph Samuel @ Lucid Living

Have you ever received a call from a company, advising you that you are in arrears on your payment – but you know for a fact, that you don’t have an account with that company? Unless this is an administration error, this is almost always the outcome of Identity (ID) theft.

ID theft occurs, when someone else, uses your “identity” to open accounts to secure goods, money or services. Because the accounts are opened in your “identity” you are (technically) liable for the debt. The legal burden of proof rests on you, to show that you were the victim of fraud.

In South Africa, ID theft usually results from someone illegally obtaining your Identity Book. This can result from theft, loss or someone improperly obtaining your Identity Book or Passport from our corruption ridden Department of Home Affairs. Once in a criminal’s possession, a simple picture change is all that is needed, to rack up tens of thousands of Rands of credit in your name.

In other circumstances, fraudsters will gather sufficient personal information about you, like – names, identity number, address, contact numbers, bank account details, etc. You may be surprised to know, that they obtain this information directly from you (“customer surveys”), from your trash and from your internet usage. Think about the documents you discard in your trash – bank statements, insurance policy books, municipal accounts etc. This information is more than sufficient for a fraudster to impersonate you and secure credit on your name.

ID theft in South Africa is a reality. The latest figures suggest that it is a flourishing industry worth approximately R1 billion Rand annually.

Preventing Identity Theft

1. One of the main keys to preventing ID theft is being watchful and being educated.

2. You should be checking your credit report at least quarterly.

Your credit report will highlight “enquiries” (credit applications) being made – if those have not been made or authorized by you – it should be an alarm.

Your credit report shows all your current credit accounts. If an account that you have no knowledge of, appears on your report, investigate and stop it immediately.

3. Report a lost or stolen Identity book to the police.

According to Superintendent Naidoo, of the South African Police Department, in cases where the theft is perpetrated by a local individual, the police can be very successful in apprehending the suspect and the court can order restitution. However, in cases when the identity theft is committed by someone out of the country, the chances of bringing those situations to a successful conclusion decrease substantially. “Those take a lot of work and is something that a small police department is not going to be able to do a lot with,” he said.

4. Register a lost or stolen Identity book, cheque book, passport or similar documents to the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS).

The free Protective Registration facility is offered to members of the public who are encouraged to register the theft or loss of Identity books and other personal documents or where there is evidence of impersonation by another person.

Such registration can be made on the Internet at or by calling 0860 101 248

According to Carol McLoughlin, Executive Director at SAFPS, all registrations are circulated to members twice per day in order to prevent any attempts at impersonation, commonly called identity theft.

McLoughlin adds, from a zero base on 1st July 2001 more than 870 000 confirmed fraud filings have been loaded to the database. There have been more than 14 000 applications for Protective Registrations.

5. Consider ID theft insurance.

This is insurance that covers the risk of ID theft. Benefits vary, but commonly you are reimbursed for any loss suffered from ID theft, up to a limit.