Identity theft: It really can happen to you
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.