Australians are more concerned with identity theft than a terrorist attack or plane crash. Scary fact - but identity theft is fast becoming a major epidemic of the 21st Century and occurs when a criminal uses another person’s personal information to take on that person’s identity.
Personal information is the currency of the world of cybercrime and people are becoming increasingly concerned about the security of their personal information – especially when using the internet.
We live in a digital world where we share information online and with that comes many benefits but also the risk that our information may be compromised.
Let’s face it, most of us have a wealth of personal information that we keep readily available – credit cards in our wallet, mail, public and personal records, information saved in our computers and information posted on social media or online blogs.
Scammers will go to great lengths to steal your personal details to commit fraudulent activities such as making unauthorised purchases on credit cards, open bank accounts, take out loans or carry out other forms of illegal business using your stolen details. They may even on-sell the information to other scammers for further illegal use.
A recent (and also alarming) survey by credit bureau Veda shows that almost 1 in 5 Australians (17% of the population) have had their personal information stolen at some stage. NSW had the highest proportion of residents who have been a victim of identity theft (19%), ahead of WA (17%), and Victoria and SA (both 15%), according to the national survey of more than 1,500 Australians. (Source: Identity Theft in Australia: The Current Problem. Veda Group. Omnibus Survey by The Leading Edge - March 2015)
Victims of identity theft and fraud will vouch that having your identity stolen can be both emotionally and financially devastating. It can take months to reclaim your identity and the impact of having it stolen can last for years.
Methods used by scammers to obtain personal information include rummaging through household rubbish or stealing personal mail, setting up fake competitions and surveys online and also setting up fake social media accounts or online dating profiles in an attempt to connect with you.
Cunning scammers will also try to trick you into providing your personal details by sending an email or text message that appears to have come from a trusted source such as your bank, telecommunications or energy provider. These scams are known as ’’phishing’’ and are designed to trick you into revealing your banking details.
Scammers will even create ads for non-existent jobs and use the information provided in the application or simply hack into your mobile device or online bank account while you are using a public Wi-Fi service.
The opportunities and methods used by scammers are seemingly endless and although there is no guarantee that you will never be a victim, there are steps you can take to minimise your risk:
Take care when sharing your personal details such as date of birth, home address, tax file number or driver’s license numbers as these are your unique identification records.
Be careful what information you store on your computers
and mobile devices
Secure your Wi-Fi network.
Keep your credit card and ATM cards safe and do not disclose your personal identity number to anyone.
Choose your passwords carefully. Set and use strong passwords which are difficult to guess and change them regularly - especially when using online banking. Don’t use the same password across a number of accounts or profiles. Don’t share your passwords with anyone.
Put a lock on your mailbox to ensure that your postal mail is not accessible to others
Shred all documents containing personal information before throwing them out (any bills, credit card applications and bank statements).
Regularly check your bank account and credit card statements to ensure that suspicious transactions are detected.
Get a copy of your credit report to ensure that no-one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts. Copies of credit reports can be obtained free of charge. To request a copy of your credit report contact CheckYourCredit.com.au.
Change passwords on your computers and mobile devices regularly, update security software, keep it up to date and back up content.
Avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access or provide personal information.