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Preventing identity theft and instalment take-overs

02 November 2016 Rudolf Mahoney, WesBank
Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications at WesBank.

Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications at WesBank.

An identity is a very valuable asset in the digital age. Honest consumers might think their ID, account and phone numbers are of no use to others, but this is very far from the truth. Fraudsters are capable of wreaking havoc with these crucial bits of personal information and ruin an individual’s credit record. These career criminals commit fraud by impersonating people, opening accounts and applying for loans – these illegal activities cost the global economy billions of Rands each year.

Fortunately, WesBank has a number of advanced systems in place to flag fraudulent finance applications. There are also measures that consumers can take to ensure that they minimise the risk of having their identities stolen. By protecting their personal information away from potential fraudsters they will be able to keep their credit profiles healthy, and reduce the chances of being declined for loans in the future.

“It’s important to remember that fraudsters do this for a living. They spend hours figuring out how to deceive people, bypass fraud checks and steal money – and they’re very good at it,” says Rudolf Mahoney, Head of Brand and Communications at WesBank. “We have excellent systems in place to intercept fraudulent applications, but it remains difficult to catch those who commit fraud. However, it’s very easy to take preventative measures that will save you a lot of money, time and trouble.”

Consumers might already be aware of the risks of card skimming and ATM scams, which involve direct interaction. But credit and vehicle finance sees fraudsters taking different approaches. These can include:

Identity theft

Identity theft involves a criminal assuming a consumer’s identity, through stolen personal details, for the purposes of committing fraud. Through social engineering they are able convince the credit providers to grant them loans, issue credit cards and, in extreme cases, even credit for cars or houses – all in the name of another consumer.

To the financial institutions the transaction would look legitimate, as they have all required information on file, and the victim of the identity theft would be held liable for the debt in their name – a situation that would be disastrous for their credit record. Undoing the damage caused by identity theft is a time-consuming process that can cost a lot of money. Unfortunately, the responsibility to notify credit providers and cancel these loans falls solely on the consumer – banks and credit bureaus have no mechanisms to automatically determine which loans are fraudulent.

Instalment take-over schemes

During times of financial difficulty – especially with rising living costs and interest rates hikes placing pressure on budgets – consumers might resort to unconventional means to free up cash. However, consumers should steer clear of all instalment take-over schemes. These are not offered by any accredited financial institution, and for good reason. Vehicle finance contracts are between the buyer and the bank, and no third party. Consumers should be wary of any service that offers to pay their monthly instalment in return for taking possession of their financed car.

This opens the contract-holder up to significant financial risk, as they remain responsible for the vehicle. Should the third party not pay for the vehicle or abscond from paying the monthly repayments, consumers will have very little recourse. Additionally, insurance companies may contest any claims on the grounds that the vehicle was voluntarily handed over.

Rather than potentially fall victim to such schemes, consumers can approach the bank and request a payment arrangement to assist in meeting repayment obligations. Alternatively, consumers can trade in their vehicle for one that is more affordable.

Phishing

Along with providing the means to bring consumers innovative new products and solutions, the internet and mobile have also opened up a number of avenues for unscrupulous individuals to commit crime – especially fraud.

This can be through emails or text messages, with scammers offering financial products or providing false payment information. Or it can take the form of phishing: a falsified communication from a credit provider, with lookalike websites designed solely for the purpose of capturing personal information. Not only can this leave bank accounts exposed, but it also gives more personal information to criminals.

Scammers are also adept social engineers. They may call consumers and claim to be from banks or credit providers, and attempt to gather personal information. Authorised credit providers will always have security checks to prove that they are phoning from the Bank.

Prevention

To help consumers remain aware of the various dangers, WesBank offers the following advice:

1) Safely store personal information

All personal information that could be used to open an account should be stored safely. This includes ID documents, ID numbers, passports, pay slips, bank cards and any printed documents with personal information. When using these documents to apply for an account ensure that copies are only made by authorised Bank staff and that the originals are safely stored at home – away from prying fingers.

2) Discard information securely

Expired driver’s licenses, unused bank cards and old account statements should be shredded when no longer needed. It is not uncommon for criminals to sift through rubbish to gather information on their victims. Printed accounts and copies of personal information readily available in a nearby bin will make their task easier.

3) Browse with caution

Customers who use online banking or digital application forms should never click links in emails or text messages. Instead, they should only ever go directly to the Bank’s website to access these functions. This all but eliminates the likelihood of login information being stolen. Additionally, consumers should avoid using entering account details or personal information on public computers, while their home computers should have the correct security software installed for the best in safety.


4) Check your credit profile

Using the services of the credit bureaus listed below, consumers can check their credit profiles to see which accounts are open in their names. This is an excellent way to see if any unknown accounts are active. It’s also wise to close down unused accounts to improve credit scores.

• TransUnion
www.transunion.co.za
0861 482 482
• Experian
www.experian.co.za
0861 10 56 65
• Compuscan
www.compuscan.co.za
0861 51 41 31

5) Report suspicious activity

Consumers who suspect that their identity has been used in fraudulent activities should immediately get in touch with the relevant Bank, the South African Fraud Prevention Service and the credit bureaus. Fraud can only when vigilant consumers are aware of their credit status and report accounts that fraudsters use.

• Southern African Fraud Prevention Service
www.safps.org.za
0860 010 1248

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