November marks International Fraud Awareness Month, and this week South Africa is commemorating this special occasion with its National Fraud Awareness Week campaign.

The Fraud Awareness Week campaign aims to encourage business leaders and employees to proactively take steps to minimise the impact of fraud by promoting anti-fraud awareness and education.

Identity theft is one type of fraud that affects both businesses and individuals. “Identity theft is widespread and don’t ever think it can never happen to you because without the right precautions it can,” says Sharon
Coppola, legal risk and compliance executive at information services group, Experian SA.

Fraud awareness is critical as organisations and individuals around the world lose revenues annually as a result of fraud related crimes.

Identity theft in particular, occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information, without your authorisation, in order to commit fraud or other offenses, such as obtaining loans, services or credit.

“Indeed, identity theft of all shapes and sizes is frighteningly prevalent. You can correct it – but obviously, only if you are aware of it,” says Coppola.

The majority of consumers do not monitor their credit reports regularly.

“At some subsequent point in time the victim of the fraud discovers the fraud only when credit providers start to bill them or follow up on the payment,” she says.

Coppola recommends the following remedial steps for identity theft victims:

* Contact the credit provider and advise, via an affidavit, that the account in question has been opened under false pretences;

* Open a case with the police; and

* Check out your credit status with a credit bureau like Experian SA and advise the bureau of the identity theft to ensure that your status has not been damaged.

She advises consumers to 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 on line. There are significant benefits derived in terms of early ID theft detection. It’s the responsible thing to do.
Often applications for credit are declined, or the applicant does not get the credit he/she wants,” says Coppola.

“Upon checking your credit report with a credit bureau you may discover the reasons, perhaps explaining why the application was unsuccessful. After all, when you apply for a job, you prepare yourself, update your
curriculum vitae and then submit the application. Why then, should you not take the same level of care when applying for credit?”

Experian SA encourages consumers to take advantage of the free annual service provided by the credit bureaus as prescribed by the National Credit Act, which gives them the right to access their credit reports once a year at no cost.

Coppola says it is important to monitor your credit report to ensure that the information that populates the report is legitimate, correct and has not been tarnished in any way by illegal credit activities. These illegal
activities may be a deterrent when accessing the credit that you need and retaining a healthy credit standing.