Identity theft escalates in SA

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The Visa and Mastercard logo are displayed in store fronts in New York City, New York, USA, 30 March, 2012.

CAPE TOWN - Criminals were becoming more resourceful in stealing people’s identities, the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service said on Wednesday, calling on the public to take greater care in protecting their identities.

Dealing with a mountain of debt accumulated by a criminal who had stolen your identity was the last thing a consumer wanted to deal with, yet, this was the growing reality for many South Africans who had fallen victim to identity theft.

Figures released recently estimated that identity theft cost South Africa over R1-billion each year.

“We are not in a position to peg an accurate value to these crimes in South Africa, however, we agree that the cost of identity theft and fraud to businesses and members of the public could certainly be at this level,” said Carol McLoughlin, executive director of the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS).

Speaking to African News Agency on Wednesday, McLoughlin said a number of organisations belonged to SAFPS and reported cases of identity theft and fraud.

The type of cases which were reported, McLoughlin told ANA, “are largely instances where an innocent person’s details are used to open accounts and apply for credit”.

She said identity theft was a global phenomenon, and it was not only South Africa that was impacted negatively by these types of crime.

According to statistics provided by SAFPS, the rise in identity theft had exploded in recent years but just of late had started to show a slowdown. 

McLoughlin said criminals were becoming increasingly resourceful and “use so many different types of scams and methods to get their hands on people’s personal information”.

She said due to this resourcefulness and the sophisticated means with which criminals carried out the illegal activities, it was “extremely difficult to pinpoint any particular type of identity theft”.

Two types of identity theft which appeared to be on the rise were phishing scams and hacking attacks, she added.

“We need to do more to raise public awareness about these crimes, and these criminals must be brought to book,” she said. “It is very difficult to track them down as they are essentially operating as ‘ghosts’ who steal people’s personal information and hide behind the identity of these innocent victims when they commit these crimes.”