What is identity theft?
It is where a person has stolen and used personal information or assumed a pre-existing identity, with or without that person's permission, and in the case of an individual, whether the person is alive or dead. Businesses may also be victims of identity theft. Having your identity stolen can be devastating.
Quite often your stolen identity documents are used by the offender for opening and operating fictitious bank accounts in your name or accessing your bank accounts. The sort of documents offenders steal are credit cards, driver's licences, utility bills, bank and credit card statements, and any other documents containing personal information.
How it happens
Identity theft can happen in many ways. It can range from someone using your credit illegally, to having your entire identity assumed by another person and business conducted in your name without your consent. Important personal information can be accessed by a determined thief, despite your best efforts.
- Your wallet or purse is stolen with all your identifying cards.
- Your home is burgled and personal documents stolen.
- Important documents, such as bank statements, credit cards, utility bills and taxation return, are stolen from your letterbox.
- Mail is diverted to another address without your knowledge.
- Recycle rubbish bins being searched.
- Being the victim of a scam, where you have been conned into providing personal information over the telephone or by email (advanced fee fraud or phishing).
- Your personal computer may have been compromised with malicious software or hackers / criminals may compromise the computers of businesses that hold your personal information.
- Credit card details may be captured by hidden devices during an ATM or EFTPOS transaction (ATM credit card skimming) or your PIN number may be seen by someone in the queue (shoulder surfing).
- Credit cards may be skimmed at retail outlets or restaurants.
How to protect yourself
Personal information is shared almost everyday as you pay bills, log on to a computer, or engage with any number of transactions with other people and organisations. You can take an active role in reducing the risk of your identity being used without your knowledge. First, you need to recognise where you might be vulnerable and then make changes to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Aim to provide a minimum amount of information about yourself.
- Destroy identifying information when you are throwing out personal papers. That also includes 'Pre-approved credit card applications'.
- Conduct regular checks / reconciliations of your billing and account records (credit card, cheque and mortgage accounts).
- Limit the amount of credit you have in your 'everyday' accounts.
- Obtain a copy of your credit rating report regularly.
- Place passwords on all your important accounts.
- Memorise passwords and avoid using obvious passwords.
- Secure your personal information at home.
- Collect new cheque books or credit cards in person from the bank.
- Secure your mail with a lockable letterbox and only post mail at official post boxes.
- Remove your name from mailing lists if you receive unsolicited mail.
- Write cheques and fill out forms carefully so that they cannot be altered easily.
- Keep a list of all your accounts and credit cards in a secure place.
- Leave anything in your car glove box that could identify you.
- Provide personal information over the phone or by email to people you do not know or trust.
- Let your credit card out of your sight when paying a bill.
- Lend your personal documents to others.
- Carry extra personal information unless you have to.
- Leave your wallet / purse unattended at the gym, parties, in shopping trolleys, etc.
- Send original proof of identity documents in the mail.
How to report identity theft
It is important to act quickly if your personal information is compromised. Identity theft can be reported to your local police station. Collect and keep any documentation that will help police in investigating the crime. Police may need to take your photograph or fingerprints to establish that your identity is different from that of the person who may be charged with the identity theft.
The following steps may also be necessary.
- Contact your bank or credit provider immediately and cancel all cards.
- Freeze or close all accounts to which the thief may have gained access.
- Open new accounts with new PINs and passwords.
- Contact the Credit Reporting Agency (Veda Advantage) and ask that an alert be placed on your file.
- Check your credit file carefully for unauthorised transactions or changes.
- Keep all documentary evidence of fraud.