Beware of Indentity theft

Beware of Identity theft

There are a lot of numbers connected to you; your phone number, your identity number and your bank account number. These all identify you as they are unique to you. You can lose a lot of money when you lose your identity.  This has become a problem, globally and I believe it will hit South Africans much harder as we are so trusting.

A recent event in my own life has made me wearier. I will share the bank call centre practices; suspicious conduct; the impact if I complied with requests; and, possible ways to overcome the problem in future and to protect you.

Banks call centres will not divulge any account information unless they have verified your identity by asking you about your personal information.  They will not, even after properly identifying you, divulge all their information to you but will accept you changing information with them.  They record all calls made to the call centre and thereby cover themselves under the law.

I one day asked a bank official what my listed cell phone number was when they claimed that they had tried to contact me but could not.  The lady was more senior than a call centre operator and told me that their systems could be hacked and that she will confirm the information to me by the listed e-mail address (also not divulged) and I could then confirm by return email.  I tested her claim and could not even pry an account balance from her by phone. 

They are protected by this voice recording even if a matter should be referred to the banks ombudsman later.  But are you?  No. You will identify yourself by starting and giving them your ID number.  Then they will test some other details like addresses.  They will test on four to six bits of information.  The hacker will know everything about you.  They are safe but you will be left exposed, as all your information is known to a hacker and he can duplicate your call to the bank, change the information to benefit him and the bank will comply to ‘your’ requests.

I received a call from a possible hacker.  He identified himself as having just started working for the bank.  He noticed that my credit card was due for renewal and needed to check information before re-issue. Even though the information is accurate and will normally give confidence in the caller’s credentials (normal to conduct of a confidence trickster) it sounded strange. Even though he was contacting me he wanted to verify that it was me he was talking to.  “What is your ID number?” he started.  Having long been aware of the problem I now refuse to divulge my ID – it is who I am and can be ‘stolen’ from me.  My caller reminded me that he was new and he will verify with his manager if he could proceed without it.  He put me on ‘music by phone’ and left me hanging.  I have two cell phone numbers for the culprit and will now have to see how effective the RICA system will be in locating them.  I want to be pro active and not re-active and see the perpetrators caught and not only prosecuted.  How effective will our new Consumer Act really be, I wonder?

Danger!  If I had, however, complied he would have gained all the information needed to then talk to my bank call centre and change the address details and receive my credit card in his mail box.  Easy.

The impact, if they had succeeded and because I have a large budget account, he could have filled the credit limits in one afternoon by signing his signature on the back (if ever checked), and ordering things by phone or online.  I will only find out a month later when the statement arrives or when I phone the bank to tell them that I had not yet received my new card – too late to stop it as a hot card.

The bank will be safe (it is all recorded), my credit card will be fully utilised and only months and years later have it resolved – a time during which I may have collected poor credit references if I did not service the account and settled balances.  All my plans for saving and securing my future will have gone or will have to be put on hold during this period.

I will only divulge parts of my information and will also get bank confirmation in a manner I explain below.  If the bank phones are hacked one should not divulge the entire part of the information.  The matter has been discussed with the banks and the bank ombud’s offices but there has been no change.  As astute consumers, we may be able to change that.

Follow these steps.

  1. Refuse to divulge your ID by phone. They have 14 pages of information on you and can verify you by any other pieces of information – agree that you will only supply part of the info, like the last four digits in this instance.
  2. Tell them that for your own security you will also test them and make sure that it is the bank you are talking to.
  3. You can start the process by asking them:
    1. How many accounts do I hold with the bank?
    2. What is my home postal code?
    3. What are the last four digits of my savings account?
  4. When asked, complete the first part of the address only (not the full one), ask them the matching postal code
  5. Never give the full details.  Part detail will do the identification as well as full detail and if the call is hacked the bits and pieces will be useless to the hacker.
  6. Test on more pieces of information until both you and the bank are satisfied
  7. If they call you, you may ask them to put their request by email; and, verify the contact persons’ credentials before complying

Banks are very naughty and have brought in rules that protect them but not you.  One of our four banks (private bank division, nogal) refused my request to change my address and I had to do it through the call centre.  This will protect them when everything is voice recorded.

If at all possible, make the changes online or in the banking hall. The conduct of call centres and the staff conduct of these centres (and their ease of use??) leave much to be desired.

One bank called me to review my satisfaction with their call centre.  Even after I reminded them that I will be the wrong person to interview, they insisted.  The last question asked was if I had any recommendation of how they could improve? “Yes, close it down” I replied.  What are your experiences and thoughts?