"Women generally carry around too much personal information in their handbags, leaving themselves open to identity theft and fraud should their bag go missing or get snatched," warns Robyn Farrell, managing director of 1st for Women Insurance Brokers.
She continues: "People tend to think of ID fraud as someone stealing a credit card and illicitly spending on it. But, that's really just the start of it. Fraudsters have become more sophisticated and nowadays go as far as stealing your whole identity to open bank accounts, rent accommodation, buy cars, take out insurance, claim from your life cover, get married and even to skip the country."
According to research by another women-only insurance provider in the UK, nearly half of British women carry a diary containing their personal details; a quarter have a cheque book; one in eight carry utility bills (one of the most useful proof of identity documents for fraudsters) and, seven percent admit to carrying their passports with them on a regular basis.
"We can assume that the average South African woman too carries at least one document in her handbag which could provide just enough information for a fraudster to assume her identity.
"A utility bill with your surname, physical address and phone number, combined with a bank statement with your account details is all it takes," says Farrell.
ID theft and fraud is a widespread global problem. In South Africa, fraud costs the insurance industry and businesses millions of rands every year. Unfortunately everyone is at risk, and those who have a good credit rating even more so. The only way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of ID fraud and/or theft is to be aware of the growing problem, guard your personal documents closely and act immediately if you notice any suspicious activity on your bank account or receive any strange phone calls or documentation about insurance on vehicles you haven't bought, retail accounts that you have never applied for or credit cards you don't have.
If your identity is stolen, the costs of restoring your name extend beyond the losses incurred while fraudsters have been spending on your credit card or retail accounts to include the legal fees to defend actions against creditor or collection agencies for debts incurred without your permission.
"It is also a great waste of time and energy when you have to spend months and even years trying to clear your name. Then of course there are the emotional trials that come along with it.
"Don't put yourself at risk by carrying ‘proof of identity' documents such as your ID book, passport or a utility bill in your bag. Rather keep them in a safe place at home and only carry them with you when absolutely necessary. Also be weary of keeping in your bag a diary or other paperwork containing information about where you live, your ID number and banking details.
"Your identity is your most important possession. It's who you are and you must take precautions to protect it," concludes Farrell.