By: Nthabiseng Moloi, MiWay Head of Marketing & Brand

Online fraud and identity theft have been headline topics for many years now, but for those of us with an ounce of online savvy, it appears relatively easy to avoid. After all, we know well enough by now that an unsolicited offer of millions of dollars from an unknown address is probably a little too good to be true.

But while we might believe ourselves to be wise to the ways of online criminals, the increase in internet-related crimes is testament to the increasingly subtle methods used by scammers to elicit personal and financial information.

According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), statistics reveal that credit card fraud increased by 13% between 2015 and 2016, accounting for R374,4 million worth of transactions over the course of a single year.[i]

Identity theft is also on the rise, with fraudsters using increasingly sophisticated trickery to lure victims into disclosing excess information.

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So how do you avoid falling victim to these opportunistic criminals?

Here are a few key tips to bear in mind to help you stay safe online:

Be vigilant

Most online crimes start in your inbox, either via ‘get rich quick’ schemes, ‘too good to be true’ special offers or forged emails from supposedly reputable senders.

These emails generally tend to implore the recipient to click on a link, where the supposed key to instant riches will be revealed. Once clicked, this link then gives fraudsters access to your email, allowing them to mine your accounts and use them to forward their schemes to others.

The general rule of thumb when it comes to email scams is to avoid clicking on anything unless you’re entirely sure of the email’s source.

While an email might appear to be from your bank or indeed your own mother, it’s important to check the email address first, and if you’re at all unsure, to call the relevant organisation or relative to double check.

Keep your passwords safe

While it’s not always possible to tell fact from fiction online, you can go a long way towards protecting yourself by keeping your own information securely stored.

Make sure your passwords are hard to hack by including special characters, and consider using a service like 1Password to create your own virtual vault, which is far harder for criminals to access.

You’ll also want to ensure that you avoid performing any sensitive financial transactions on public WiFi networks, as these afford criminals prime opportunities to invade your system.

Don’t disclose sensitive information

Identity theft is a growing issue in South Africa, and the worst part is that it’s often only when it’s too late that the affected party even realises it’s happened.

Simply by using your medical aid information, cell phone account or stolen ID document, criminals are able to accrue enormous amounts of credit on your behalf, something which can leave you in a precarious position when you wish to apply for your own.

Even children are falling victim to this type of crime, with fraudsters targeting them for their untarnished credit scores

As such, it’s absolutely vital that you ensure all documents of a personal nature are kept safe and out of potentially destructive hands. Municipal accounts, bank statements, cell phone bills and any other sensitive information should always be kept somewhere secure, and IDs and passports should be kept in a safe if at all possible.

By taking a few simple proactive steps, and staying alert to early warning signs, you may help to reduce your and your child’s risk of identity theft and ensure you aren’t part of a growing number of digitally defrauded South Africans

Keep tabs

The biggest problem with identity theft is that it can go on for years without your knowledge, so it’s best to keep a watchful eye on your credit status if you want to avoid getting blacklisted. Check your credit score regularly for any changes, and pay close attention to any store accounts or communications that seem suspicious – the sooner you report identity theft, the less damage will be done to your own credit score.

It’s also important to keep tabs on your children, as they are increasingly becoming favoured targets

Should your child’s bank account be declined, or if they receive any type of correspondence from SARS or credit card offers from the bank, it’s likely something is amiss. Regular credit checks are advised, and can be easily obtained from various outlets.

Generally, children under 18 years, with a few exceptions, do not have a credit score. If you find that your child has a credit rating of any description, you’d be well advised to call the South African Fraud Prevention (SAFPS) on 0860 101 248.

By taking a few simple proactive steps, and staying alert to early warning signs, you may help to reduce your and your child’s risk of identity theft and ensure you aren’t part of a growing number of digitally defrauded South Africans.

MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)