A festive season frustrated by fraudsters
Identity fraud is real, and a real headache … take my word for it.
During December, I decided that it was time to migrate my cellphone contract to one that better suited my needs. I happily marched into my local Cell C branch, told the friendly lady behind the counter what I wanted, handed over my ID and waited for her to finish clicking through her system to “upgrade” me.
But then she made a routine call to the Cell C credit department. Despite being a loyal customer for the past five years, and never missing a payment or having a poor credit score, her colleague on the other end of the line informed her that I have an outstanding balance with another provider and, as such, they would have to deny my request for a migration.
I was adamant that this simply could not be, and hurried off to sign up to as many credit bureaus as I could to check my credit record.
I was horrified to find that still listed was a Telkom Mobile account that had been taken out fraudulently in my name back in 2016 – which had burdened me with six months of emails, phone calls, affidavits and statements to Telkom and its tenacious debt collector. Despite eventual confirmation from both that the matter was closed and the credit agencies would be notified, this issue apparently still haunts me…
According to Experian South Africa, fraudsters are becoming smarter and more nimble, and it can take up to 292 days for individuals to notice their information has been fraudulently used.
“Criminal activity is often discovered only at the least-expected times, such as when paying a bill at a restaurant, applying for a credit card, or taking out a mobile phone contract,” says Dion Scotten, fraud consultant at Experian South Africa. “This comes at a great cost to victims, with repercussions including large bill payments, inability to access credit and loans, as well as an impacted credit score.”
So, what can you (and I, for that matter) do to not fall victim to identity theft and fraud?
“It is important to stay in control of calls, letters and emails to detect any unusual activity,” explains Scotten.
Regular credit card and bank statement checks help to identify unusual transactional activities. One can also set up transaction SMS or email alerts on bank accounts. Be alert that fraud might have occurred if you receive a credit card that you did not apply for, or messages or phone calls regarding accounts which have received approval or denial of credit.
Credit reports should also be checked regularly. This can be done through various credit bureaus and is a good way to spot fraud early. When checking your credit report, it is important to keep an eye on irregular searches made on your report by lenders as a result of a credit application.
Looking out for loans or accounts on your credit report that are not yours, as well as incorrect personal details, such as your home address, are also vital, Experian adds.
If you do find yourself falling victim to fraud, it is important to take action quickly and contact all relevant parties immediately.
“Early detection of identity theft is important and, apart from financial losses, can save up to 300 hours of having to deal with the administrative consequences created by this fraud. Being extra vigilant and creating a monitoring routine can help to identify suspicious activity and protect you against identity fraud,” Scotten says.
Had I done that regularly over the past year and a bit, I’d now have a new cellphone contract, instead of a re-emerging headache.