South Africa: Will the real Mrs Moeketsi please stand up

De Master Yoda

ID theft.

Will the real Mrs Moeketsi please stand up
Wendy Knowler
September 01 2008 at 09:47AM:

ID theft is a particularly nasty form of white-collar crime. Having got their hands on documentation that supposedly proves they are you, the fraudster assumes your identity - and your sound credit rating. Then they set about wrecking that credit history, running up a pile of debt in your name.

And you'll have to prove you are who you say you are, and that it wasn't you who bought all those things.

I can only imagine the rage, desperation, frustration and sense of vulnerability the victims must feel.

And their numbers are growing worldwide. In the UK, a quarter of the population has been affected by ID fraud or know somebody who has.

Margaret (Maggie) Moeketsi, an employee of the Gauteng provincial government, has never lost her ID or had it stolen. But she became a victim nevertheless.

The first time she learnt of this was in June, when she received a call from Morkels in Joburg, asking why she hadn't made a payment.

She went to the store and was presented with a photocopy of her salary slip and ID. Well, an ID bearing her number, middle name and surname, but a different first name - Mirriam instead of Margaret - and the photo of a stranger.

When applying for jobs in the public sector, applicants supply a certified copies of their ID and salary advice. So it would appear that fraudsters are working in tandem with people who have access to job applications.

Moeketsi convinced management at Morkels that the account was opened fraudulently, and then reported the incident to the police.

"One policeman told me to brace myself, because there were probably about 10 people out there pretending to be me." He was right.

Clearly a syndicate was at work, because Moeketsi's ID number, plus her surname and middle name, turned up in five fake ID books, bearing different photos.

A few days after she'd reported the theft, a cellphone was delivered to her house. Another fraudster had opened a cellphone account in her name, but somehow failed to make sure the phone didn't go to the real MJ Moeketsi.

"Then yet more imposters acquired an Absa credit card in my name, a Nashua Mobile Internet contract, and an account at Russells in Meyerton, all using fraudulent copies of IDs bearing my surname, ID number and one of my first names as well as my banking details," Moeketsi says.

In the case of the Absa credit card, the fraudster was granted a credit limit of R33 000. "And she blew the whole amount in just one month - May," she says.

By July, strange debit orders had begun to appear on her bank account. All but one of the companies responded well when she pointed out that she'd been the victim of identity fraud, and refunded her money.

"The Russells store in Meyerton is treating me like a criminal when its staff failed to pick up the fact that it was a criminal who bought furniture on account from them," she says.

The fraudster had bought luxury goods from the store, including a double-door fridge and a plasma-screen TV, and paid a hefty deposit, leaving a debt of R44 000, which the store had begun deducting from Moeketsi's account.

I raised the issue with Russells' head office last week, and within a day, Moeketsi had received a letter from Russells confirming that her credit record had been amended and that a refund of R1 258 had been paid into her bank account.

I also suggested to Moeketsi that she register with the SA Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), a non-profit organisation that puts the details of identity theft victims on their database and alerts all the banks and retailers, so that a red flag goes up if someone applies to open an account in their name.

That exercise also proved to be frustrating for Moeketsi.

"I was told that before I could be registered with the service, I had to submit certain documents, including copies of the fraudulent IDs used to commit the crimes in my name, as well as letters from at least two credit providers confirming that I am cleared of the debt.

"Most of these credit providers regard their copies of the fraudulent ID books as classified information and don't want to give them to me, and as for the clearance letters, I can't get these until the companies have done a full investigation and written off the debts as losses.

"But in the meantime, my problem is escalating. I've just recently had a call from someone claiming to be from Mr Price head office, wanting to 'verify' my employment details in respect of 'my' application to open an account.

"As soon as I said the word 'fraud', she hung up. Mr Price told me that no application for credit had been made in my name, and suggested that the call was probably made by one of the fraudsters, wanting to make sure that I didn't already have a Mr Price account."

SAFPS executive director Pat Cunningham says it is true that the service requires "some proof of impersonation" before accepting details for filing. "We have had numerous attempts at false reports on impersonation by people who are trying to evade their liabilities with regard to debt, so we have to take care to protect the truly innocent people," he said.

"But it certainly looks as if Mrs Moeketsi is the victim of impersonation and I have instructed one of my staff to contact her and to make arrangements for her to be filed under our Protective Registration Service as well as a Victim of Impersonation.

"Once we have her ID number, we can check our files to see if she has been a victim with any of our other members."

Meanwhile, Moeketsi remains concerned about how easy it was for fraudsters to disrupt her life.

"One of the fraudsters actually managed to go to my bank - right over the road from where I work - and obtain a copy of my bank statement by producing a fake ID book.

"I could see that the typeface on the copy of the fake ID was inconsistent. Why didn't the bank staff pick this up? Why are we required to present our ID books to obtain our bank statements if the tellers can't tell a fake from the real thing?"

Cunningham says in most cases, bank staff members do detect fake ID books. Meanwhile, Moeketsi is coming to terms with the fact that she will always have to carry several extra forms on ID on her in order to prove that she's the real Mrs MJ Moeketsi, and not one of her many imposters.

This article was originally published on page 7 of Pretoria News on September 01, 2008