Identity theft may be equally devastating than a physical robbery where tangible possessions are lost in the act.

Malaysians are increasingly vulnerable to identity theft as internet savvy citizens are making more purchases and transactions online. This trend is tempting ground for identity thieves.

Check Your Credit Report Before It’s Too Late

Ms Dawn Lai, CEO of RAM Credit Information Sdn Bhd (RAMCI) advised consumers, “There are several steps one can take to keep an eye on their credit transactions and ensure there is no identity theft. Checking your credit card bill for suspicious transactions is a good practice. Beyond that, a comprehensive check on all potential credit platforms should be done. This can be achieved by checking your personal credit report.”

Lai’s advice is pertinent considering that one of the methods of identity theft is to apply for loans or credit using the victim’s identity. These transactions, if undetected, would not show up on any bill until the loan is approved, paid out to the thief and the repayment bill is sent to the victim. It is important to check your credit reports regularly to identify illegal activity. Early detection is key to minimising the damage that mistakes and fraudulent activities can have on your credit profile.

According to RAMCI’s Consumer Survey, there is a lack of awareness among consumers about credit reports. While over 70 percent admitted to having some knowledge regarding credit reports, only 28 percent took the trouble to view theirs. Of those who viewed their credit reports, up to 30 percent of respondents did it when their legitimate credit applications were rejected while 13 percent did it because of suspected identity theft.

Lai said, “By then, it may already be too late to prevent the fraudulent transaction. The process to undo or resolve this fraudulent transaction may involve the police, banks and other parties and take months if not years. In the meantime, the victim may have missed opportunities for investment or to make a purchase such as buying a home.”

For cases where there is an inaccuracy or dispute about information in the credit report, Lai encourages consumers to contact the credit reporting agency (CRA). “If you have documentary evidence to show the inaccuracy of the report, the CRA is duty bound by the Credit Reporting Agency Act 2010 to verify and rectify the information free of charge. Our survey shows that more than half of respondents are unaware of the CRA’s responsibility to provide accurate and updated information to its subscribers.”

As Malaysia enters a challenging economic year, RAMCI is stepping up its consumer educational efforts and hopes to see many more take control of their credit information and protect themselves against identity theft. Lai stressed, ”Don’t wait till you notice suspicious activity in your credit profiles. Take the initiative to keep up to date and monitor your credit report to avoid identity theft.”

A credit report is a record of one’s borrowing history and repayment behaviour. It includes a record of one’s credit cards, loans or other credit facilities applied for and even if there is involvement in litigation cases. Lai shared that she has encountered consumers who viewed their credit reports for the first time only to discover a loan in their name which they have never applied for.

For the average person, checking their credit reports at least once a year is the least they should do.