There’s nothing like that sinking feeling you get when you realise you’ve lost your wallet. Usually this isn’t even related to any money that’s in it, but rather the inconvenience of having to cancel all your bank cards and sort out items such as your driver’s licence and ID.
Of bigger concern, however, is the issue of identity theft.  About 3 600 cases were reported last year, and the numbers are expected to rise. Criminals will typically use an ID document with a changed photo, open bank accounts, and then use that ID number to buy on credit and take out loans, without, of course, ever repaying them. This will result in a blacklisting at the credit bureaus, and undoing this can take months.
“Customers need to be on their guard,” says Nitesh Patel, Head of Customer Financial Solutions, Personal Banking at Standard Bank. “It’s easy to throw away documents containing bank account details or other personal data, not realising the implications of this action, and the long-term costs could be great.  Fortunately, there are many simple ways you can protect yourself against fraud and identify theft.”
Below are a few tips that can greatly minimise the risk of criminals getting their hands on your personal banking information:
* Carefully dispose of expired ID items so they cannot be reused.  This includes IDs that have been reported lost, then found, or renewed/temporary driver’s licenses or passports.  If you are nostalgic about these documents, keep them in a safe or a safety deposit box.
* When you receive a new bank card, sign it immediately and link your banking to your cell phone, so you are notified when any transactions go through.
* Report any fraud on your accounts to your bank immediately, so they can stop access to your cards.  You may be required to go to the police to get a case number.
* Keep a list of all your card numbers separate from your cards, in case your wallet or purse is stolen.
* Never write your PIN number on your cards or where they are stored, as you may be liable for any transaction where a valid PIN was used.
* Cut up expired cards, because if someone gets hold of the card they can use it in conjunction with a fake ID to get a new one.
* Never leave your ID documents where they can be stolen – banking fraud is not the only thing that you are exposed to.  Syndicates steal ID documents to obtain fraudulent marriage certificates to allow foreigners to take up residency in South Africa. Worse still, they could use a fake ID to get a policy on your life; making them a beneficiary should anything happen to you.
* If your phone access is suddenly terminated, this could be the result of a fraudster suspending your phone contract so you don’t receive texts about your bank activity. They also organise sim swaps by repeatedly calling you and hanging up in the hope you will switch off your phone so the swap can be executed. If you get numerous calls from an unknown number, call your service provider to check that they have not received instructions for a sim swap.
If you suspect that your financial information has been compromised, don’t delay – the sooner you act, the better. The South African Fraud Protection Service suggests you follow these steps:
* Contact the fraud prevention division of the major credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert in your file, as well as a request that creditors call you before opening or changing accounts.  Also order copies of your credit report from the credit bureaus and check them carefully to ensure no additional accounts have been opened.
* When a company enquires about your credit status, the bureau will record this – ask for their names to be removed, so it’s easy to check if someone has been using your name fraudulently.
* Contact your creditors for information on accounts that may have been tampered with. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department and follow up with a letter.  It is important to follow up with credit card companies in writing, because that is the consumer protection procedure for resolving errors on credit card statements. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new PINs and passwords. Avoid using easily available information, such as your mother’s maiden name or your birthdate.
* File a report at your local police station or the station in the community where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank or credit card company need proof of the crime.
“While anyone can fall prey to fraud or loss, being vigilant can minimise the damage,” says Patel. “If you suspect foul play, act immediately – it’s better to overreact than suffer the consequences of being a victim of fraud.”