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Your personal information could be for sale

Nov 17, 2021

Your personal information could be for saleLast month, the personal information of millions of South Africans was placed on messaging app Telegram for sale to the highest bidders.

According to the Information Regulator, the database containing consumers’ personal information was downloaded over 100 times before Telegram removed the page with the link to the database.

The Information Regulator said the release of private data on Telegram was a continuation of a data breach at credit bureau Experian experienced on 19 August 2020. The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) at the time stated that the breach had exposed some personal information of as many as 24 million South Africans and 793 749 business entities to a suspected fraudster.”

The compromised data was limited to contact information, including telephone numbers, email addresses and physical addresses, as well as employment data, which includes place of work, title, start date and work contact details. No personal consumer credit, financial or banking information was shared by Experian.

What is of concern now, is that despite assurances in 2020 that the information had been removed from public platforms and the DarkWeb marketplace, it continues to be made available.

“Telegram took the right decision by removing the page with the link from its platform, however this came late because the database with the personal information of data subjects had already been downloaded more than 100 times. This means this data is still available in the public domain,” said Adv. Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator.

“Given the massive amount of data that was illegally obtained from Experian in 2020, and the evidence that this data remains on various platforms, contrary to assurances that had been given to us, it is clear that we have not seen the last incident of this type of exposure of people’s personal information.

“The Regulator has a responsibility to the data subjects and the public, and we will not hesitate to take strong action should we find evidence of continued activity that compromises the security of personal information of any person.”

What is a data leak and how does it impact me?

A data leak occurs when fraudsters gain access to a company’s proprietary data which they either use themselves to impersonate individuals or sell on to other fraudsters.

A common example of identity theft is an ‘account takeover’. This is when an individual has a line of credit in a store and fraudsters use the individual’s identity information in order access this credit without the victim’s knowledge or permission.

As one victim explains, “I realised I had become a victim of identity theft when I wanted to do an upgrade on my cellphone contract, only to find out someone else had done it two weeks earlier. This left me with a R26 000 bill which took months and a lot of painstaking processes to resolve.”

What you can do to protect yourself

The reality is that our data is out there in everything we do. Every digital action we take leaves a record physically or virtually. These actions include simply visiting a website or subscribing to a digital service.

The best way to protect yourself is to acknowledge that criminal syndicates have your information and act accordingly.

Dalene Deale, Executive Head at Secure Citizen, the digital identity arm of the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) provides some advice on how to protect your data.

Firstly, check your credit report for any new unknown accounts. Then check your statement balances to ensure someone else hasn’t made purchases on your account.

If you are concerned that your data has been compromised, you can now send an email to breach@securecitizen.co.za. Secure Citizen will biometrically verify your identity and will check your breach status.

They will also offer you Protective Registration, at no cost. This offers consumers an added layer of protection when applying for credit and the like.

Secure Citizen will be launching their digital application for consumers in the near future. This has been in development for many months and will provide access to numerous services that enhance convenience while offering increased identity protection.

This article first appeared in City Press.

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Maya Fisher-French author of Money Questions Answered

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