I never thought it would happen to me. I’m very careful about always tearing up bank statements before disposing of them, I never hand out my ID book, I hesitate to supply information to anyone I don’t know, but still it happened. My identity was stolen even though I’m still in possession of my ID book, my drivers license and my passport.
It all started on Friday the 13th (yes, can you believe it) of December, when I received an SMS overnight from Standard Bank for a debit order I didn’t recognise, for a cellphone contract I didn’t have.
I figured perhaps this was just a mistake and the SMS came to the wrong number, but after reading it in disbelief about 10 times, I realised that all the account number details were in fact mine. I immediately called the Standard Bank fraud line. The transaction was definitely real and had come off my account.
Down the rabbit hole
Once I reached the office, I contacted the cellular provider who, after tracing my bank account number, immediately marked the contract as fraudulent, blocked the SIM card and cancelled any and all debit orders. What a relief. Or at least it would have been if it ended there. Many years ago I signed up for the free-credit-report-for-your-birthday thing from both Experian and TransUnion (called CreditExpert and MyTransunion respectively). I purchased and retrieved my Experian report, and noted it was clear. Thereafter, I purchased and retrieved my TransUnion report, and my heart sank.
At least 5 attempted accounts in 14 days. Dealing with the first provider was easy as the culprit had succeeded, the rest would prove to be a bit more challenging to sort out with the limited information I had.
The race is on
Knowing that at least 5 providers out there had a potential fraudulent account in my name, I proceeded to call up the telephone numbers on the credit report (it’s great that they supply these, although some seemed to be out of date and I had to resort to Google for contact details). I rapidly learned that some companies were very jacked up when reporting fraud, while others have one person dealing with all the fraudulent accounts nationally, and are practically impossible to get hold of (disturbing as the company in question is LARGE). The trick is to ask for the “Fraud and Risk” department, and failing that, go for “Legal” or “Collections”. After reporting all the accounts as fraudulent, I had no idea where to turn in order to stop additional accounts being opened. Enter Jonathan, a colleague of mine, who is also a certified fraud examiner. He supplied me with a template for an affidavit (which had to be certified by a commissioner of oaths) that I had to supply to the cellular provider where the contract was approved, stating that I had no knowledge of the contract nor had I given authorisation for it to be opened. Following on from this, he pointed me in the direction of the SAFPS.
Enter the South African Fraud Protection Service. The SAFPS is an organisation offering the South African public a means of protecting themselves against impersonation and identity theft. After calling them and speaking to a very friendly and helpful consultant, I was sent an application form. The trick for registering, is you need to have one of the providers where an attempt was made at opening an account furnish you with a “Letter of Attempt”. Why I say it is a trick, is you cannot get the letter from a company where the culprit has succeeded in opening an account. A second cellular provider stepped up to the plate, sending me a letter within 10 minutes of the call to their legal department. Armed with the letter, and the completed form, I submitted my name to the SAFPS database.
With the SAFPS, they register your ID number with the credit bureaus as an ID that has been stolen. Any lender would be required to decline the financial application if it is not accompanied by a letter from the SAFPS (and me being there in person). At the time of writing, I am still waiting for the letter, however at least I can rest easier that it is that little bit more difficult to open something in my name. The inconvenience of now having to justify who I am twice whenever querying something will have to be something I get used to. As the situation progresses, I’ll post some updates here. Also, once the dust has settled, I’ll post a summary of what happened and a step by step guide as to what to do should you find yourself in the same situation.
In this post, I mentioned various organisations – they can be contacted via the following details. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to register for CreditExpert and MyTransUnion. Also, I must stress the importance of subscribing to any SMS notification service your bank may offer.
The South African Fraud Prevention Services
0860 101 248
0861 105 665
0861 482 482
Update – Links to all parts: