Identity Documents

But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.1

William Shakespeare was writing this in 1603, in a small village called Stratford-upon-Avon in England, but it may have well been written today in any country of the world. Identity theft is a huge problem, and in the United States alone, every year, approximately 15 million people have their identities used fraudulently, with losses totalling upwards of US$50 million.2

Usually, you will find out that you have become a victim of identity theft when you are contacted by a debt collector or credit provider in connection with an account or debt that you know nothing about.3 Somehow, the criminal has got hold of all your ‘identity’ details, and recreated a new profile - but with his picture in the passport, say. Here are tips from SAFPS4 to assist and prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud:

  • Shred all documents that contain your personal information and do not throw anything away that someone else could use to impersonate you.
  • Always remain attentive at ATMs and ensure that no one is attempting to gain access to your pin number.
  • Make sure all your accounts have strong passwords that are not easy to decipher.
  • Never respond to an e-mail or sms that asks you to insert or update your personal and banking information by clicking on a website link provided in the content of the message. Rather copy and paste the link into your internet browser, as this will enable you to determine whether you are accessing an authentic website, or not.
  • If you receive a call from an unknown individual who requests personal information, rather offer to call them back to verify that the number they have given you in fact belongs to the correct company. Also, ask them to give you the personal information that they need to confirm, instead of providing the details yourself.
  • Be very selective with the type of information that you share on social media sites and make use of privacy settings.
  • Only carry identification documentation such as your passport or identity book when it’s absolutely necessary and keep these documents safely locked away when not in use.
  • Do not get taken in by scammers who send messages telling you that you have won a prize, or inherited money.

Anyway, the Identification Act 1997 provides for the issue of South African ID books. The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Home Affairs, but for all intents and purposes is administered by the Director-General: Department of Home Affairs.

A. Use of ID cards

  1. It is a criminal offence:
    • to use the ID of another person as your own;5
    • to present the ID of some person as that of another;6
    • to allow an ID card to come into the possession of someone else for an unlawful purpose.7

B. False information

  1. It is a criminal offence:
    • to make any false statement for the purposes of the Act;8
    • to imitate, forge, alter or damage any ID card;9
    • to allow that to be done;10
    • to maintain that incorrect information on an ID card is correct;11
    • to possess any ID card which has been forged, or altered, in any way, or on which information is incorrect.12
  2. If any ID card (or temporary ID certificate) does not correctly reflect the person’s particulars he must return it to the Director-General. It is an offence not to do so.13

  3. It is an offence to refuse to furnish proof of the correctness of any particulars, if requested by the Director General.14

C. Applying for an ID card

  1. It is a criminal offence:
    • to regain possession of an old ID card after a new one has been issued;15
    • to refuse to return an old ID card to the Director General.16
  2. If you are 16 years and over, you must apply for an ID card within the prescribed time. It is a crime if you fail to do so.17

  3. It is a crime if you refuse to have your fingerprints taken when you apply for an ID card.18

  4. If it comes to his attention that an ID card has been issued to a person other than a South African citizen, or a lawfully permanent resident, the Director-General must call for it to be returned, for cancellation. It is an offence not to comply with such request.19

D. The Population Register

  1. It is an offence to record any information in the official Population Register unless authorised by the Director-General.20

  2. It is an offence to record any particulars in the Population Register which are false.21

  3. It is an offence fraudulently to change any particulars in the Register.22

  4. It is an offence to disclose any information recorded in the Population Register except as is required by the Act, or by judicial proceedings, or in the performance of functions in terms of any other law.23

  1. Shakespeare, Othello – Act iii Scene 3. This epithet is on the identity theft page of the United States Department of Justice website – ‘Identity theft’. 

  2. – ‘Statistics’. 

  3. See the website of The South African Fraud Prevention Service: – ‘Steps that you can take to safeguard your identity’. 

  4. Taken directly from its website. 

  5. Section 18(1)(d). 

  6. Section 18(1)(d). 

  7. Section 18(1)(f). 

  8. Section 18(1)(a). 

  9. Section 18(1)(e). 

  10. Section 18(1)(e). 

  11. Section 18(1)(g). 

  12. Section 18(1)(i). 

  13. Section 19(1)(a) and (b) read with section 18(2)(d). 

  14. Section 12(a) read with section 18(2)(b). 

  15. Section 18(1)(f). 

  16. Section 18(1)(f). 

  17. Section 15(1) and section 10 read with section 18(2)(c). 

  18. Section 15(1) and section 10 read with section 18(2)(c). 

  19. Section 19(4) read with section 18(2)(b). 

  20. Section 18(1)(b). 

  21. Section 18(1)(c). 

  22. Section 18(1)(c). 

  23. Section 21(1).