By Coenraad de Jager, Executive: Commercial, Personal and Distribution at Mutual & Federal

Imagine waking up to discover someone you’ve never met has racked up a huge amount of debt, and potentially a criminal record, in your name. Now imagine this person got all the information they needed to steal your identity simply by browsing your Facebook profile.

Identity theft through social media sites, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago, is fast becoming a stark reality in South Africa and looks likely to only increase as our online presence grows.

While there is little available data on the exact extent of identity theft through online channels in South Africa, a study found that this type of crime in the UK had risen by 57% in 2015, partly driven by criminals utilising social media channels to steal information.

This highlights the need to be more selective with what we share on our digital networks. According to a public announcement by the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) in February 2016, data shared on social media sites is “a valuable source of information for criminals”. Sabric warned the public that they should not share any personal information, such as birthdays and their address, on any social media platforms.

Identity thieves can use this information to obtain loans or buy products in your name and disappear, leaving you responsible for the debt and a bad credit record if you refuse to pay. Furthermore, the legal process of clearing your name can be a long and financially devastating process.

It is perhaps because it is a relatively new crime that many people are unaware that there are ways to protect yourself from the financial impact of having your identity stolen. Most of us would never dream of leaving our highly valued assets such as our cars and homes uninsured so why do we leave our most important asset, our identities, unprotected? With this in mind, and after seeing the trauma that identity theft caused to our customers, we decided to create an identity theft policy to protect people in 2011.

By adding identity theft cover to your personal policy, you can be comprehensively covered in the event your information is stolen and abused. This cover protects you by paying reasonable expenses or costs for defending legal suits brought against you by a creditor or a collection agency, removing civil judgments wrongfully passed against you and challenging the accuracy or completeness of any information in your credit report. Furthermore, there are different levels of cover that a policyholder can select.

It is crucial that insurance companies stay up to date with trends and technologies in order to stay relevant to their customers and their requirements. By providing such cover, insurance companies can help their customers through what can be a long, traumatic and financially harmful experience and provide the necessary funds to clear their name through the courts.

Tips for keeping yourself safe from online identity fraud:

  • Add identity theft cover to your policy to protect you from the impact of debt and legal fees;
  • Be careful with what information you share online, including on social media platforms;
  • Never accept requests from people you don’t know;
  • Regularly check your social media security settings as these platforms occasionally reset settings;
  • Change your passwords regularly and use different strong passwords for your all your accounts;
  • Stay vigilant against phishing scams by never clicking on links sent to your device by unknown senders;
  • Ensure your company has a policy of thoroughly wiping data from all work devices when they are replaced;
  • Regularly check your credit report with one of the major credit bureau’s;
  • Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time;
  • Destroy unsolicited credit applications.
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