Identity theft in South Africa has doubled in the last 12 months according to a real time report.According to real time support centres data, victims of identity fraud are making such centres struggle to keep up with demand as the number of South Africans scammed online skyrockets with banking fraudsters being the leading scammers.It is estimated more than 1 million South Africans have their identity stolen each year at a cost of about $20 million. One of the cities with services to help victims of identify theft is South Africa’s commercial hub Johannesburg where several organisations offers free helpline for South Africans victims of identity fraud.In one such organisation in north west Johannesburg made up of about 10 staff, some of them volunteers from university and funded by contributions from well wishers, said the number of calls has been doubling every two months.One of the volunteers whom your blogger was able to reach said “If we’re at cyber war there’s a lot of investment going into guns and bullets at the moment but in terms of the stretcher bearers and the first aid post and those to provide the triage and the emergency support here in Johannesburg, we’re it,” she said. A report on of their operation in 2016 found 23 per cent of clients were referred to mental health professionals for face to face support. She explained how she understands just how stressful identity fraud can be after hackers stole her uncle’s 200,000 Rands from his retirement savings in 2014 and thats why she offered herself as a volunteer in the organisation.
The thieves hacked her uncle’s email and advised his bank to transfer cash and also liquidate bonds worth more than 200,000 Rands. By luck, her Uncle and his son realised when they contacted their bank from a separate email account and were able to stop the transactions for bonds, but it was too late and they lost the cash.When her uncle reported the theft at his local police station, he was told to contact the South Africa Police Service Cybercrime division. All he got back from then was an email with a tracking number confirming his case. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of help out there with South African Police Service in relation to cyber crime. So she felt so sad and took the initiative to assist her uncle and went looking for resources to help and the only thing she found online anywhere in South Africa was that organisation in Johannesburg,” she said. As we continued chatting, she advised that South Africans should regularly scan their computers for viruses and check email settings. “If you’ve got webmail, find the settings, get into the filters and have a look and see if there are any filters in there because if there are, you’ve been hacked,” she said. “I know it’s scary. If you’ve been hacked have a look at the email addresses that are sitting in that filter and you’ll see who you should be talking to very quickly.”I sought her advise on general public on what are the most effective ways of protecting yourself from identity theft and one of them she said was to never provide personal information to anyone who emails or calls you, changing password regularly was also among her advise, running anti-virus software on all internet-enabled devices, handling with care information you share on social media and in emails and also destroying and deleting excess personal information kept physically and online. In case your identify is stolen, she advises that you seek free and anonymous tailored advice and support, call the bank requesting a a credit or debit card ban and also seek a copy of your debit or credit report. Also, be on the look out for increased telephone and email scams and talk to family and friends. In South Africa, it takes an average 60 days for a victim to discover identify theft and a criminal usually misuses stolen identity within 48 hours of being stolen.