Identity Theft: Will The Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?
Sandy Patterson was a happily married man with two kids, and expecting their third child soon. However, his world came tumbling down when he was arrested for a financial crime. He was caught by surprise but later discovered that his credit cards had been maxed out, causing credit rating to sink. Further investigation showed that he was a victim of identity theft where his name and Social Security number was misused to tap into his financial accounts.
Sounds too much like Hollywood? It is. This is a film titled Identity Theft, released in 2012. However, these things do not just happen in Hollywood, it can happen in real life too, and right here in Malaysia.
Earlier this year, a Malaysian found himself embroiled in a case of stolen identity. It all started when his mobile number was disconnected by a person claiming to be him. Then it escalated to an intercepted credit card from the bank, which resulted in transactions totalling RM26,428 in one day.
Though the bank nullified the transactions after he made a police report, the drama did not end there. His identify was again used to sign up for various mobile phone lines and broadband subscriptions.
Identity theft is common and can happen to anyone of us. Here’s what you need to know about identity theft, and how you can protect yourself from the disaster.
Identity theft in Malaysia
What exactly is identity theft? This theft occurs when someone steals information that defines your personal identity, such as your name, identity card number, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers, to gain your benefits.
These benefits can be financial, such as access to your accounts and credit cards, or they can be affecting your reputation, where the thieves use your identity to get a job or commit a crime.
There are various forms of identity theft cases in Malaysia, including access to bank accounts via phishing emails or calls, cloning of ATM, credit and debit cards, loan and insurance frauds, online purchasing of goods and services, as well as fraudulent registration of utilities.
The financial consequences on the victim can be very damaging, as they may be wrongfully arrested for financial crimes, such as money laundering or evasion of tax. Or at the very least, you may suffer financially due to various debts accumulated by the impostor, causing your credit health to falter.
When a fraudster has access to your bank account and empties it, leaving you with no cash to pay your bills, you can end up making late payments or default on your payments for credit card, loan instalments, rent, utilities and so on.
Or worse, when the impostor racks up a huge debt that may be impossible for you to settle, unless you are able to proof that the transactions were conducted by the fraudster. These debts can be in the form of credit or debit card transactions, or even via your mobile phone accounts.
All these will negatively impact your credit score, ultimately making you a bad paymaster in the eyes of the borrower and therefore, tarnish your financial credibility.
Do a check-up on your credit health
One of the best way to ensure you are not victimised by identity theft, is to keep a close watch on your credit report and keep abreast of your various financial accounts.
However, according to a survey conducted by iMoney in collaboration with CTOS, there is a lack of awareness on credit reports. An alarming 67% of the respondents don’t check their credit reports, while 52% are unsure what affect their credit report.
If you have never checked your credit report because you never found the need to, by the time you found out of any suspicious financial transactions involving your name, it might be too late.
Remember, your fraudster may not be using your home or work address to apply for credit card or any subscriptions. This makes receiving bills or statements impossible.
To be on the safe side, check your credit report twice a year, and if you see any suspicious accounts, you can proceed to take the necessary actions to rectify it.
Here’s how to protect yourself against identity theft
Whether or not you been a victim of identity theft previously, being vigilant of your financial accounts is no longer something you can put off. This includes setting up alerts on your existing financial/credit accounts and immediately reporting any suspicion or discrepancy in your accounts. This can only happen when you take the relevant initiative in periodically reviewing your credit report.
It also pays to be extra cautious when you handle your financial details – especially when you make online transactions. Make sure the online transaction is done on a secured website and over a secured network (not public Wi-Fi). When dealing with online financial accounts, ideally use a complex password/PIN that is difficult to guess and avoid using the same password for all logins.
Last but not least, immediately report a stolen wallet or card. Fraudsters work extremely fast, so you need to ensure the card is deactivated before any serious damage can be done.
Identity theft is a serious financial crime and must be dealt with immediately to minimise financial losses and the consequent negative impact it will have on your finances and credit report.
Prevention is better than cure, even in this situation. An identity theft case can drag on for years, and you wouldn’t want to be caught in one. By doing your due diligence, you can protect yourself from identity theft and save yourself the trouble.