When someone says you look like someone, it means your face is almost the same as someone else. Often, it’s a compliment – particularly when they say you resemble someone famous but sharing a name with a convicted rapist recently made life very difficult for one Thabo Bester.  

For 10 years one particular Thabo Bester said that his only “crime” was having the same name as one of the most brazen and infamous criminals South Africa has ever seen. It was another Thabo Bester who was incarcerated for rape and murder, the other Thabo Bester who staged his death in a prison cell, and the other Thabo Bester who went on the run and lived a life of luxury with his lover.

The real Thabo is an unemployed forklift driver from Ratanda, a township south of Heidelberg in Gauteng, doing his best to get by in the world.

Records show that the other “Thabo” and his partner were recently arrested in Tanzania. The Department of Home Affairs have said that he did not appear on the home affairs database of births, marriages, or deaths and that there was no personal identity information on record for him at all.

The real Thabo had to go to the police and make a statement to the effect that he was not “Thabo Bester the fugitive” they took his fingerprints and he was sent off to have his identity confirmed. He was later given the all-clear but the impact on his life was immense.

Thabo’s case could be considered “mistaken identity”, but The Federal Trade Commission received 5.7 million fraud and identity theft reports and it is believed that identity theft is now costing the South African economy more than R1.5 billion per annum.

The verification of ID documents for employers is essential. A simple identity verification check ensures that the ID is valid and does not belong to a deceased subject and ensures that the ID information submitted matches the data on file at the Department of Home Affairs.

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