Identify Theft and Ways to Protect Your Identity
Identity crime generates significant profits for offenders and causes considerable financial losses to the Australian Government, private industry and individuals.
The Attorney-General’s Department recently estimated that identity crime costs Australia over $1.6 billion each year, with the majority (around $900m) lost by individuals through credit card fraud, identity theft and scams.
Identity crime practices include:
- Using your credit card details to illegally make purchases;
- Opening a bank account in your name;
- Applying for benefits in your name;
- Applying for a drivers licence in your name; or even
- Applying for a passport in your name.
Ways scammers can obtain your personal details include:
- Sending an email that looks like it comes from your bank, financial institution or telecommunications provider;
- Calling from your bank about ‘suspicious activity’ on your credit card and asking for various personal information to confirm your identity;
- Offering bogus job opportunities – the scammers may use or sell the personal information provided in a job application.
Signs that you may be subject to an identity crime include:
- You find items on your credit card statement that you don’t recognise;
- You apply for a government benefit to be told that you are already claiming it;
- You receive bills for goods or services you have not requested; and
- You are refused credit despite having a good credit history.
Social media creates a whole new opportunity for identity theft. In the UK a journalist engaged two internet and security experts to find out as much information as they could about his partner (with her permission), armed with just her name and address. As she used Facebook, Flickr, Linkedin and Friends United sites, the experts accessed information such as:
- The names of all but one of her relatives;
- The names of her primary and secondary schools and college;
- Photographs of her from her days at school (obtained from an old friend’s Facebook page);
- Details of her qualifications, including that she had studied Fine Art at St Martin’s College of Art and Design in London;
- Details of all 41 countries she had visited together with the 162 towns and islands she had visited;
- Her likes, dislikes and hobbies.
The experts found this information in around one hour. From their findings, if they were actually scammers, they could tailor a scam to specifically target her. For example, if they used the information she regularly visited Malawi, they could use an online introduction claiming to be a friend she had met there five years ago and ask for a donation to the orphanage in that country.
It is really amazing what one hour researching in public records can reveal, with two such basic pieces of information.
Some ways to protect yourself against identity theft include:
- Secure your mail box;
- Shred or destroy personal and financial papers;
- Regularly check your credit report;
- Never rely of a number or link provided in an email to verify personal information – always confirm via an internet search or on the back of your ATM/credit card;
- Use credit cards with a micro-chip;
- Regularly check your bank and credit card statements;
- Do not use public wi-fi or non-password protected networks to do internet banking or transmit personal information;
- If responding to online employment or rental advertisements, be wary of providing personal information electronically;
- In relation to social networking sites, always use the most secure settings; and
- Do not send money or personal information to people you don’t know and keep track of those that you do provide this information to.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, first and foremost, you should report this to your financial institution. Then you should report it to your local police. You can report scams on the ACCC’s Scamwatch website. Importantly, if you become aware of a scam or potential scheme to facilitate identity theft, report it – it may well prevent unsuspecting people or businesses from becoming victims.