Most Kenyans have at one point received a call from someone claiming to be from a particular bank or telecommunications company. The person then proceeds to ask you to verify some personal information, such as your bank account details, your PIN, or your password in order to resolve some issue with your account or SIM card.
Those who fall for these antics find themselves dealing with unexpected financial challenges shortly after; money missing from your account, loans borrowed under your name, unexplained payments charged to your account, and so on.
Such cases are a common example of identity theft, which can easily leave you carrying unexpected financial burdens, and sometimes, even facing criminal charges.
In this article, we are going to look at exactly what identity theft is, how it happens, and the steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
Identity theft refers to a situation where someone acquires the personal information of another – such as the bank account number, identity card number, credit card information, and so on – and uses it to misrepresent themselves and commit a crime.
In most cases, identity thieves use stolen identities to commit financial fraud, though a stolen identity can be used to commit other kinds of crime.
For instance, if a person gains access to your personal information, they can use it to impersonate you and request a SIM card replacement for your phone number. With access to your number, they can then access your mobile wallets, take mobile loans, access your bank accounts, and so on.
Identity theft can be categorized depending on the reason, or the manner in which it is carried out. The different types of identity theft include…
Financial identity theft is the most common type of identity theft. In this case, personal information is stolen with the aim of gaining access to another person’s financial accounts or committing financial fraud.
This refers to situations where a person obtains the details of your national identity card and uses these details to register a SIM card, open bank accounts, apply for loans, gain access to areas you have access to, and so on.
Medical identity refers to situations where someone obtains your personal information and uses the information to impersonate you and receive free medical care while charging it to your insurer.
This happens when someone combines stolen personal information with made-up information to create a fictitious new identity, which they then use for fraudulent or other illegal activities.
Criminal identity theft happens when someone impersonates another person during the commission of a crime, to avoid arrest or to avoid having a criminal record.
There are several ways through which your personal information and identity can get compromised. Some of the most common methods used by identity thieves to obtain personal information include…
This is a very common method of identity theft in Kenya. The identity thieves obtain some personal information, such as your ID number, and use it to swap your number to a SIM card that they control. This gives them access to all accounts that rely on your mobile phone number.
If your SIM has been swapped, it will usually lose its network connection, which means you’ll no longer be able to make or receive calls or send messages.
This is another common method of identity theft in Kenya. Here, the identity thief calls you claiming to be a representative of a bank or a telecommunication company with the hope of duping you into divulging your personal information.
This happens when someone sends you an email purporting to be from a legitimate organization that you trust, such as your bank. The email usually contains a link to a cloned website resembling that of the organization they are impersonating.
Any information you enter into the cloned website, such as your login information or bank account details, will fall into the hands of the identity thief.
Here, the identity thief installs a malicious program on your computer or mobile device to secretly monitor your activities on the device.
Many of these programs have keyloggers that record all your keystrokes and send the information to the identity thief, thus making it very easy for them to discover your passwords, account numbers, and other important information.
Some spyware programs also take screenshots of your device periodically and transmit them to the identity thief.
WiFi Snooping is where an identity thief intercepts information being sent over unsecure WiFi connections in order to retrieve passwords and other personal information.
When a mugger steals your wallet, or someone breaks into your car or home, they could gain access to your identity card, your credit card, and so on. Such thieves can use the information on these cards to steal your identity.
Skimming refers to a tactic where identity thieves use fake card readers to copy the information on your credit card, and then use this information to create a duplicate card that they can use to make payments from your account.
Even though identity thieves are constantly coming up with ways to obtain people’s personal information, there are some steps that you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. These include…
Personal devices like smartphones, computers and tablets contain lots of personal information. Keeping all your devices password-protected will keep unauthorized people from accessing this information. You should use different passwords for different devices and accounts to protect them in the event one password is compromised.
Having an antivirus and anti-spyware software on all your devices and keeping this software up to date will help protect you from spyware and other malicious programs that could be trying to obtain your personal information.
If you receive a suspicious email, avoid clicking on any links within the email, since such links could install spyware onto your device. In addition, always confirm the URL of websites before entering sensitive information, such as passwords and payment details.
If someone calls you claiming to be the employee of a bank, telecommunication company, or other similar organization and asking for some personal information, don’t provide this information over the phone.
The best course of action here is to physically visit the bank or organization to resolve the purported issue.
If you cannot physically visit the organization, hang up the call, and initiate another call to the organization’s official phone number and find out whether there’s actually any issue with your account.
Never leave any personal documents, such as your identity card, bank statement, credit and debit cards, bills, and so on in a place where they can be easily accessed by an unauthorized person.
If you have reason to believe that your identity has been stolen, some of the steps you can take include…
Identity theft is a serious crime that leads to huge financial losses for victims, as well as the risk of jail time in the case of criminal identity theft. It is therefore of utmost importance that you are aware of how identity theft happens, and what you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim.