Having your identity stolen can impact your credit profile negatively – including your ability to buy a car. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you minimise the risk of having your identity stolen. By protecting your identity you keep your credit profile healthy, which will improve the chances of having credit approved in the future.
Much like accountants and architects are professionals in their field, scammers are also professionals in their field. It is estimated that identity theft costs South African businesses more than R1-billion a year, and those who are responsible rarely get caught.
There are little or no repercussions for these career criminals who spend their lives finding ways to deceive private individuals and banks – all in the name of criminal enterprises for their personal gain. Access to your personal details is all that’s needed for an identity thief to impersonate you and apply for credit in your name.
This is known as identity theft – when your identity has been assumed by a criminal, who then uses your personal details to commit fraud. Using a bit of persuasion, they can convince the bank to grant them loans, issue credit cards and, in extreme cases, even credit for cars or houses – all in your name.
According to the bank’s records, you are the person who is responsible for repaying the loans. Naturally, this can be disastrous for your credit record. Undoing the damage caused by identity theft is a time-consuming process that can cost a lot of money. The responsibility falls solely on you, because the relevant banks and credit bureaus will not know which loans are fraudulent. It is up to you to prove any fraud involved in a transaction.
Of course, there are measures that can be taken to significantly reduce the possibility of credit fraud and identity theft happening to you. The most important piece of the puzzle is to closely guard any documents and information that can be used by criminals to assume your identity. This includes your driver’s license, ID book or card, and passport. These personal documents should be kept under safe guard, and if they are lost or stolen this should immediately be reported to the police and credit bureaus.
When you apply for finance you are generally asked to submit photocopies of these personal documents. Here, it’s important to take care that you have these copies made by reputable individuals – ideally at the dealership where you’re buying the vehicle. Alternatively, seek the services of a notary to make certified copies.
Other paperwork that should be kept closely guarded include bank statements, payslips, and any account statements that arrive by mail. Even expired bank cards and old cheque books can be used to steal your identity. These should be filed away securely, or destroyed.
Exercise caution when answering unsolicited calls from unknown numbers, especially when the caller claims to be from a financial institution. Fraudsters have been known to impersonate banks and phone unsuspecting consumers on a false pretext – such as updating personal records. This is called social engineering: remember that your bank will never ask you to verify your account log-in information via the telephone.
There have been a number of reported cases where criminals have used stolen phones and dialled all the phone numbers on the contact list to harvest personal information. With these details in hand they are able to apply for car finance online. If ever in doubt, consumers should verify the caller’s identity by checking with their registered service provider or by asking the caller to confirm their personal details in a more secure way.
You can take further steps to protect yourself by keeping your digital information secure. In this connected age more and more scammers are turning to email and the web to ply their trade. Consumers are regularly advised not to click on links sent in emails, but internet best practice also means using secure and different passwords for websites. A hijacked social account can be as useful, to a scammer, as a compromised bank account.
To be safe, you can keep track of any activity on your accounts and credit profiles using tools provided by the credit bureaus. It is possible to pull one free credit report each year, as well as set up alerts to be notified when your personal information is used in a credit application. These credit reports show all queries, applications and accounts opened in your name. A subscription service is also available to provide monthly monitoring on your accounts, providing an additional layer of security.
WesBank offers a number of security checks to inform you if your identity is stolen and used by a fraudster to apply for vehicle finance or a loan. Fraudulent applications are flagged, and credit is automatically denied.
If you suspect that your identity has been used in fraudulent activities, get in touch with the South African Fraud Prevention Service and one of the following credit bureaus:
- Southern African Fraud Prevention Service – www.safps.org.za, 0860 010 1248
- TransUnion – www.transunion.co.za, 0861 482 482
- Experian – www.experian.co.za, 0861 10 56 65
- Compuscan – www.compuscan.co.za, 0861 51 41 31
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