[By definition, identity theft is any kind of deception, scam, or crime that results in the loss of personal data, including the loss of user names, passwords, banking information, credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers and health ID’s, that is then used without your permission to commit fraud and other crimes.
More than three quarters of a million Australians were the victims of identity theft in the past year, costing the average victim about $4,000. For some consumers, identity theft is an annoying inconvenience and they can quickly resolve their problems and restore their identity. For others recovering their identity can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, take months to resolve, cause tremendous damage to their reputation, cause them to lose job opportunities, even influence the rejection of loan applications for school, homes or cars because would-be employers or loan companies see the damage on your credit scores. Some consumers have even been arrested for crimes committed by someone using their identities and have had to prove that they were not guilty.
At a federal level In Australia, there are no laws making identity theft a crime in its own right. However, there are a number of other crimes that someone can be guilty of consequential to identify theft – things like using a false document, forgery or fraud that can be used to successfully prosecute a perpetrator.
Warning signs that you could be a victim include:
Unusual or unexplained transactions on your bank account or credit card
Mail goes missing
Receiving bills, receipts or invoices for services you haven’t signed on or for goods you haven’t bought
Losing your passport or drivers’ licence or having them stolen
Being denied a loan or credit, or a Centrelink benefit on the basis you’ve maxed out your entitlement.
The type of crime, where people use your identity is fraud and can include forms of Centrelink fraud, general fraud or types of credit card ‘skimming’ and credit card fraud. You will also see it becoming more prevalent online as a form of internet fraud.
Here are a few suggestions on what you can do to reduce your risk?
Always monitor your online profile: Part of being vigilant about identity theft is making sure someone doesn’t already have your information and is using it – the sooner you catch it the better. If you think that someone may have hacked into your account, change your password immediately and consider removing your account. Also contact the website administrator. Their details are usually on the bottom of the website page.
Don’t post too much personal information on your online profile: If you wouldn’t want everyone in the world knowing it, don’t put it online. Remember that any information you put online about yourself could be used by an identity thief to guess the answers to your security questions and then hack into your email, social media or online messenger accounts.
Be on the lookout for fake profiles: If you find a fake profile that is pretending to be you and is harassing or threatening you, then you should report it straight away. Tell a parent, older sibling or teacher or contact the website administrator.
Keep your login information for social media and other secure sites in a safe place: Use different passwords for different websites. Don’t just use the same one each time or something simple like “P@ssw0rd” or “12345”. Make the password difficult to crack. The best passwords have 8 characters or more and should include a number, a capital letter and a symbol. Also, try to avoid telling other people your password.
Be cautious when using other people’s computer: Never allow your password details to be saved to the computer you are on, especially with Google browser wanting to automatically save your details for future use. This would allow other people to use your personal details to access the site and change your account details without your permission.
Be careful when banking or making online purchases: Only transfer money or make online purchases from websites that are safe and secure. A good rule of thumb is that if a website seems even remotely untrustworthy, don’t buy anything from it. It is possible that your information could be stored and passed on to other people without your permission.
Never click a weblink in an email: This is the biggest catch all for most scammers and phishing attacks. In every company there is always someone who will click on everything. Even if the email is from a trusted source, the safe way is to copy the web address and paste it into the browser window.
Be careful with junk emails: You may receive emails that say that you have won money or a holiday or an iPad. Be very careful about giving away your personal information in response to these emails. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Use antivirus software and keep it up-to-date: Identity theft can also occur through viruses or trojans on your computer that monitor your keystrokes or record your website activity. Use up to date antivirus software and schedule regular virus scans of your computer.
Looking for advice on protecting yourself from cyber threats
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