With the chair of the Information Regulator finally appointed to begin carrying out her duties on the 1st December 2016 we all finally feel, if only a little, a sense of hope for South Africa to take the step in the right direction when it comes to treating the things that you, the South African Consumer own, namely your personal information a little more safely. This was the case until I received a letter addressed to me in the post containing all the information a Fraudster needed about me to begin wreaking havoc in my life with the name my father bestowed upon me. This letter was in fact a bill. This bill was an E-Toll statement.
I think it is necessary to outline here one modus operandi common to identity theft known as Dumpster Diving. This is the practice of syndicates rummaging through your dustbins to gather personal information about you and your family from any statements, letters, printed emails and any other documentation that you have thrown away in the trash. Companies like Shredit and Cleardata are businesses that specifically help companies shred sensitive company documentation to protect the information from falling into the wrong hands. Services like these are great for company employees knowing that the company they are employed by are taking steps to protect not only the company information but theirs as well. Once that employee leaves the office and returns to his or her home, the onus is on them to dispose of any sensitive documentation they wish to throw away in the trash. A lot of individuals do take the necessary precautions when disposing of information by shredding these documents correctly, but are these efforts without cause when what is being posted to your door step contains almost every piece of personal information you have been working so hard to protect? Let’s explore this.
Enter the E-Toll Statement. Since the inception of SANRALs E-Tolls which make use of gantries to collect data which is used to bill road users they have made use of the existing vehicle licensing process to facilitate their billing process. The Department of Transport published regulations with effect from the 1 November 2015 that requires the owners of all vehicles to undergo a FICA-like process where they will have to confirm their vehicle details and related information including their full names, date of birth, identity number and business registration number; Proof of postal and residential address, by means of any utility account. E-Toll statements are thus sent to the residential addresses registered against your vehicle license.
What information is contained in your E-toll statement? Here is a list: Initials and Surname, ID Number, Residential address, Vehicle registration number, photo of vehicle as well as a detailed list of your driving patterns. This is a lot of information that is readily available to any passerby of your residential property or should this statement fail to be delivered due to any inefficiencies in the South African Postal Service.
If someone obtains your identity number and other personal information, they can use your name to make purchases or dispose of assets (such as your car, property or business); to enter into financial commitments; or even to enter into binding contracts (such as a fraudulent marriage). Some examples of common targets of an Identity Thief are cell phone contracts, loan accounts, credit card accounts, vehicle loans and home loans. These Identity thieves not only cause havoc in your day to day life but also destroy your credit record which can take months to resolve. Last year, the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) received 2,470 reports of victim impersonation which are reports of identity theft. “We are of the view that a significantly higher number of consumers become victims of identity theft. However, these instances often go unreported.” Says Roy Retief, Operations Manager for the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS)
Norton, a security company that provides award-winning antivirus and security software for your PC, Mac, and mobile devices has released its findings from the Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report revealing that over 8.8 million South Africans fell victim to cyber crime in the past year. The report was based on a survey of more than 18,000 consumers across 18 markets, including about 1,000 across South Africa. The research shed light on the global impact of consumer cyber crime, showing that 76% of South Africans believe that identity theft is more likely than ever before.
With the exponential growth of cybercrime, it is no longer a debate what information a hacker is able of obtaining but more a question of when they will obtain it and what will they do with it.
For arguments sake, let’s take the example mentioned above of Dumpster Diving and your E-toll statement. Would it not be difficult for criminal syndicates to recreate fake IDs from information obtained from your E-Toll statement? The answer is yes, it would require effort so instead why not have a real one created? Enter Corruption.
Take a look at the recent news in the last quarter of 2016 reported on the 1st of December that police arrested a senior home affairs official, Sibonelo Biyela, for fraud as Biyela was suspected of helping a foreign national obtain a fraudulent South African passport.
Reported on the 8th November 2016 in the citizen, A Park Rynie home affairs official and a foreign national were arrested for identity fraud on Monday morning, November 7, in KwaZulu-Natal.
A senior Home Affairs official in Pretoria, Elisha Matsipa, was arrested at the end of 2015 for “putting South Africa at risk” by fraudulently selling ID documents. He was believed to be part of a syndicate selling South African ID documents for between R3 000 and R23 000. His accomplices and him were allegedly producing up to 500 South African ID documents. The official’s arrest was seen as just the tip of the iceberg, as the department believed that at least 42 other people were part of the syndicate.
The above examples are only the known reported cases of corruption within the Department of Home Affairs. It is not enough to be vigilant in your own capacity when protecting your personal information anymore. The Protection of Personal Information act is a great leap forward but it is not enough. When projects like e-tolls cause an exposure of your private information, it unravels all the necessary steps the individual has taken to protect it. Once your information has been exposed, it is compromised forever. Criminal syndicates gain access to government organisations and fraud and corruption is rife in South Africa. With these elements constantly working against every South African it is unfortunately a reality that identity theft is here to stay.