It’s all too easy for someone to be you
Recently, I checked into the new Holiday Inn in Rivonia Road in Johannesburg. The accommodation had been booked through a travel agent, with confirmation that all extras were to be added to the bill and submitted to the travel agent. I had a copy of the booking form, as did the hotel.
But the hotel wanted to see some form of identity and a credit card. The credit card it did not get. I showed the clerk my driver’s licence, assuming she wanted to check it was me.
She took the driver’s licence, turned on her heels and started to walk off. Asked what she thought she was doing, the clerk told me she was going to photocopy it.
Not a chance, I told her. Bring it right back. But she said it was required in terms of the Immigration Act. What tripe!
Everyone wants copies of all your documents: cellphone companies, which now also demand information in terms of Rica (see
South African Airways, which demands photocopies of your ID and the front and back of your credit card; banks with their repeated Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) requests (because their systems are so useless or their staff are too lazy to check whether they already have the information); retailers if you apply for credit; and even life assurance companies.
It is no wonder that banks lost R82 million in 2005 to fraudsters using stolen or copied identity documents.
Many financial services companies abuse Fica to get information from you that they actually want for marketing purposes.
It has become so ludicrous that we might as well place all our private information on a website and say to fraudsters: “Come get me!”
What makes it worse is that so many companies then seem to indiscriminately and unacceptably sell your information on to others.
And then we have the recent and disgraceful loss of client information by Zurich Insurance.
So I was somewhat bemused to receive a media release recently from the financial services industry body, the Association for Savings & Investment South Africa (Asisa), warning people to hold onto their documentation because of the high levels of fraud.
Still, the Asisa warning is apt.
Peter Dempsey, the deputy chief executive of Asisa, says not only are criminals becoming more desperate; they are also becoming more sophisticated.
He says life companies regularly encounter cases where criminals use the personal infor mation of unsuspecting consumers to take out life policies in their names with the aim of submitting fraudulent death claims later or for the purposes of collecting commission.
Dempsey says although life companies are continuously updating their fraud-detection methods to remain abreast of the latest techniques used by criminals, you need to be aware of the problem if it is to be countered.
“Consumers need to guard their personal information as they would any other valuable possession. Not only will this help life insurance companies, but it will also protect consumers against financial loss and the endless administrative hassles involved when having to reclaim their identity from criminals,” says Dempsey.
In other words, don’t let the check-in clerk at the Holiday Inn, Rivonia Road, Johannesburg, copy your personal documents such as your identity documents and credit cards. Rather check in at a different hotel, as I will be doing in future.
Dempsey says even a pay slip or a bank statement can provide an experienced identity thief with enough information to perpetrate fraud in your name.
A case that made headlines last year involved a Kenyan syndicate that operated in South Africa. The syndicate managed to acquire boxes filled with the salary slips of government employees in KwaZulu-Natal and North West province. These salary slips were sold to unscrupulous financial advisers, who used the details on the salary slips, together with a forged signature, to write policies for people without their knowledge.
Because the salary slips provided the fraudsters with real banking details and identity numbers, the small premiums were then deducted from the salaries of the government employees. This practice was only exposed when a cleaner at a school complained about the premium being deducted from her salary each month.
Dempsey says it is important that you regularly check your pay slip and bank account statements to make sure that all deductions are authorised. If you come across any suspicious deductions, immediately notify your employer, the life insurer making the deductions, and your bank.
I would add that you should question anyone who wants to take copies of any of your documents. Demand to see the manager. Ask what security they have in place, such as ensuring no duplicates can be made, what secure storage facilities they have in place and whether they share your documentation with anyone else.
Only by you putting pressure on institutions that demand your information will you protect yourself.