Protecting yourself from identity theft

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

A current court case, dealing with a house that was sold fraudulently, has highlighted the risks of identity theft. Here’s what you need to know.

Can you imagine waking up one day and discovering that a property you own has been sold to someone else without your knowledge? And when you eventually get the matter to court, the ‘new’ owner insists that they bought the home from the ‘rightful’ owner who produced both an ID document and the Title Deed to the home at the time of the sale?

You would think in today's world, with all its checks and balances, something like this couldn't possibly happen. Unbelievably, it appears it actually has and the matter is currently being heard in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

The case, which was reported in the weekend edition of The Pretoria News, involves a property in Lotus Gardens. The applicant maintains that her property was sold by someone who had stolen her identity and was applying to have the ‘new’ owner evicted. She noted that an unknown person had stolen her identity and had used a false identity document to sell her home. According to the applicant, she had never intended to sell the property in the first place.

However, the ‘new’ owner has refused to move out, stating that there was no onus on her to ascertain the true identity of the seller, who, as stated previously, produced both an identity document and the Title Deed. The case is ongoing.

Identity theft comes in all shapes and forms, ranging from opening accounts with various retail stores under the assumed name; cloning someone's number plate in order to commit a crime (or simply to avoid paying traffic fines); using a cloned ID document in order to arrange a marriage; opening fake bank accounts or, as this cases highlights, illegally selling property such as a house or a car that doesn't belong to them.

This type of thief is generally smart and knows just how to go about finding all the information necessary to steal someone’s identity. For this reason, it's vital to stay one step ahead and protect your personal information as much as possible.

Here are some tips on how best to protect yourself:

  • Lock all your important personal documents in a safe.

  • Don't ever leave your handbag or purse unattended when out and about. Keep a firm grip on the bag while walking. Keep the zip on the bag closed and make copies of all important documents in your handbag, including your ID book/card and driver’s licence.

  • Cancel any cards not in use.

  • Examine your bank accounts regularly to ensure there are no unauthorised deductions or withdrawals.

  • Use unusual passwords (ones made up of both letters and numbers) when using a computer and don't allow anyone to see your pin code when using the ATM. Never give this information to anyone, regardless of what story you are spun. Banks will never ask you to divulge this sort of information.

  • Conduct regular virus and spyware checks on your computer.

  • Do not reveal personal information, either by phone or on the Internet, to unverified sources. Don't allow yourself to be pressurised into divulging information and if you feel uncomfortable with the person you are dealing with, hang up and check the validity of the organisation/person.

  • Shred personal documents. A lot can be gleaned from what you throw away. Bank statements, credit card statements and receipts, lights and water accounts, in fact anything that contains personal information should be thoroughly destroyed before disposal.

Steps to take if you become a victim of identity theft:

  • Report the matter to the police immediately, giving them as much information about the illegal transactions as possible. Get a case number and supply copies of this and other relevant documentation from the police to your bank and other creditors.

  • Inform your bank and stop all cards. Open a new account.

  • Cancel all clothing accounts and other store cards immediately

  • Contact the various credit bureaux and inform them that your identity has been stolen.

  • Consider employing a private detective to help resolve the matter.

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Fraud and Scams

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