Adv Randolph Samuel @ Lucid Living
It is estimated that identity theft costs the South African economy in the region of R1 billion per annum and the United Kingdom economy $3.5 billion per annum. In the United States identity theft is the fastest growing type of fraud – in 2008 some 9.9 million Americans were reportedly victims. On average identity theft is only picked up 9-12 months after the event and the costs associated with rectifying the fraud ranges from R7,500 upward. We offer you some tips on how to protect yourself.
1. Check your account statements
You may look at your account statement, but do you scrutinize it? Well you should! Fraudulent low value transactions can be easily missed if you don’t pay attention. Look for any activity or purchases that do not belong to you. If you are a victim of identity theft, you will receive bills from companies you don’t have an account with. Contact that creditor immediately and notify them of the specific transactions or that you never opened the account. Ask them to investigate it and provide you with written, voice or CCV proof of the transaction. Have them flag your account and change the details or immediately close a fraudulently opened account. Creditors will typically want to hold you liable for the fraud – especially on new accounts. This is unfortunate, but a reality. You will probably need good legal representation to get them to back down.
2. Check your bank statements
The modus operandi for identity theft, like all other crimes, is constantly evolving – with criminals devising new methods, schemes and tactics. Your bank account, especially if you use the internet, is always being targeted with the latest and most innovative schemes. Be aware of phishing schemes which get you to disclose your internet banking details. An oldie but goodie is check fraud. This remains a soft target and a reason why banks discourage its use. Credit card cloning is rife – never let your card out of your site. Scrutinize your bank statement. Look for any unauthorized transactions and report it. Banks will usually accept liability for fraud – but not without first making you jump through some hoops. Remember banks have a time limit on disputed transactions – this varies from bank to bank. As a general rule make sure you report any fraudulent activity immediately.
3. Check your credit report
Your credit record is a great source to quickly detect identity theft and fraud on all your accounts. It reflects you’re our accounts and transactions. If a new account appears on your report, that you have not opened or your balance on an existing account suddenly increases, without you having made a recent purchase – there is a strong likelihood of fraudulent activity. Your credit report also highlights your most recently updated personal information – if this is incorrect, it could be the result of a fraudster completing applications with your identity. You should be checking your credit report monthly and scanning it for any suspicious or unauthorized transactions. Report this fraud to the credit bureau immediately. The credit bureau will flag you on a fraud database, so that the next time a fraudster tries using your identity, the creditor will be alerted and the criminal caught.
4. Protect your information
Your personal information should be closely guarded. Keep identification documents as well as copies of such documents secure. Always remember to report the loss or theft of identification documents as soon as is possible. Do not give strangers personal information including your contact details. Finally, be discriminating about the information that you post on social networking websites such as Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.
5. Be aware
The key to determining if you are a victim of identity theft and fraud is to be aware. This starts with diligently reviewing all your financial records on a regular basis. If you suspect any fraudulent activity report it immediately and stop any further abuse. By being pro-active you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim and save yourself from the financial loss and legal battles of dealing with the consequences of identity theft.