Iden­tity theft: It really can hap­pen to you

Weekend Witness - - Opinion -

IDEN­TITY theft is wide­spread and on­go­ing and can take many forms. It also presents a ma­jor fi­nan­cial risk for con­sumers and in­sti­tu­tions alike.

“Don’t ever think it can never hap­pen to you, be­cause with­out the right pre­cau­tions it can,” warned Sharon Cop­pola, le­gal risk and com­pli­ance ex­ec­u­tive at in­for­ma­tion ser­vices group Ex­pe­rian SA.

Urg­ing con­sumers to be on the look­out for warn­ing sig­nals, she de­scribed a typ­i­cal in­stance of how one’s iden­tity can be stolen and used.

“An in­di­vid­ual’s iden­tity num­ber may be used when open­ing a cell­phone ac­count. The fraud­ster ap­plies for an ac­count us­ing the ID and en­ters into some form of con­tract in the name of the per­son to whom the ID be­longs.

“The thief then ac­quires a hand­set and starts to use the phone,” she said.

“At some sub­se­quent point in time, the vic­tim of the fraud dis­cov­ers the scam be­cause the tele­phone com­pany starts to bill him or her. That’s when the stricken con­sumer needs to take in­stant ac­tion.”

Cop­pola rec­om­mended the fol­low­ing re­me­dial steps: • con­tact the tele­phone com­pany and ad­vise, via an af­fi­davit, that the ac­count in ques­tion has been opened un­der false pre­tences; • open a case with the po­lice; • check out your credit sta­tus with a credit bureau and ad­vise the bureau of the iden­tity theft to en­sure that your sta­tus has not been dam­aged.

She added that con­sumers should fol­low a de­fen­sive strat­egy by reg­u­larly view­ing their credit re­ports to en­sure that there are no fic­ti­tious en­tries to their ac­counts.

“Pro­tect your ID by ob­tain­ing a credit report on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. You can ac­cess your report at any time on­line. There are sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits de­rived in terms of early ID theft de­tec­tion.

“ID fraud re­quires you to go to the trou­ble and ex­treme in­con­ve­nience of ex­plain­ing to one or more credit providers that you did not com­plete that ap­pli­ca­tion form, that you do not owe the money, and that you don’t know who it is.”

Cop­pola stressed the need to be con­stantly aware of one’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to iden­tity theft.

“If you think about it, you present your ID on a host of oc­ca­sions. The or­gan­i­sa­tions re­quest­ing ID are usu­ally well aware of the doc­u­ment’s con­fi­den­tial­ity. But bad ap­ples may lurk. So check your credit report reg­u­larly.”

Iden­tity theft aside, Cop­pola rec­om­mended that con­sumers check their credit re­ports when ap­ply­ing for credit, that they en­sure their credit stand­ing is healthy and that they agree with the in­for­ma­tion in the report.

— Week­end Wit­ness Re­porter.

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