Identity crime in Australia is estimated to cost us upwards of $1.6 billion each year, with around $900 million of this being lost by individuals through credit card fraud, identity theft and scams. But what is Identity theft, how do you know when your identity has been stolen, and what can you do to protect yourself or help yourself out of the situation if it’s too late?
What is Identity Theft?
The term identity theft is used to describe the theft or assumption of a pre-existing identity (or significant part thereof), with or without consent and whether, in the case of an individual, the person is living or deceased.
When someone wishes to steal your personal information and use it to commit a crime, they may be looking to steal a range of personal details from you, such as but not limited to:
- Date of Birth
- Driver’s licence number
- Mother’s maiden name
- Place of birth
- Credit card details
- Tax file number
- Medicare card details
- Passport information
Once stolen, this information can be used for myriad criminal activities. For example, identity thieves can apply for credit cards, benefits, employment opportunities, passports, run up debts or obtain a loan in your name
How to protect yourself from identity theft
When using social media, it is important to limit what you share online publicly. Cyber criminals can learn a great deal about you from social media accounts, therefore it is important to reconsider sharing information that may directly answer security questions, such as birthdates, and the address of where you live publicly. Setting your social media privacy settings to private and not accepting friend requests from strangers can also help remove the possibility of cybercriminal attacks.
In some instances, you can be targeted for identity theft in more subtle ways. An example of this can be cybercriminals impersonating well-known organisations asking you to confirm personal details via messages or websites. Many companies will never ask you to update and confirm your details as they allow clientele to update details themselves by logging into the organisation’s secure official website. If you do need to update your details, please make sure you are doing this through websites you are familiar with. Furthermore, keeping your software up to date and using strong, unique passwords can help in eliminating successful identity theft attacks online.
Other ways to help protect yourself from identity theft can be to not use Wi-Fi hotspots, regularly check your account statements, check your credit report at least once a year, avoid phone calls that ask for your personal information and watch out for people trying to view your PIN while you are using an ATM.
How can you tell if you are a victim of identity theft?
It can be difficult to determine whether you have been a victim of identity theft but there are some ways you may be able to find out. If your bank statements show purchases or withdrawals you have not made, you are refused credit because of poor credit history due to debts you have not incurred or government agencies contact you regarding receiving a government benefit that you never applied for, then you may have been subjected to identity theft.
What to do if you think your identity has been stolen
If you suspect any fraudulent use of your identity then immediately report this to your bank, local police, social media account’s website or other online accounts you may use. Changing your passwords on your accounts and requesting a credit card report from a reputable credit reference bureau can also be beneficial. Lastly, you can lodge a report with the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s ReportCyber.