Identity theft explained
Identity theft occurs when someone gains access to your personal information without your consent, to steal money or gain other benefits.
Personal information they may seek to access includes your name, address, date of birth or bank account details.
They may then use your credit card, access your bank account, use your personal details, send emails from your email account, or use your identity to commit crimes and evade the law.
If you're a victim of identity theft, it can lead to fraud that can have a direct impact on your personal finances. This could make it difficult for you to obtain loans, credit cards or a mortgage until the matter is resolved.
How your identity can be stolen
There are many ways for your identity to be hijacked. It happen through an email or phone call where the thief pretends to be from a charity, a bank, your service provider or even a government agency.
Thieves may also hijack Facebook accounts and email addresses to impersonate your friends and loved ones and ask for money or information. Or they may send you an email with an attached virus that captures your password and personal information.
It can also happen on a very personal level when someone gains access to the information in your wallet, your mail or from your personal documents such as a birth certificate.
How you can protect yourself from identity theft
Beware of unsolicited phone calls or emails that ask for personal information. And always be cautious about who you provide your personal information to.
If someone is requesting your personal information ask yourself, is there a legitimate reason for me to give out this information?
There are some other simple things that you can do to help safeguard your identity.
- Make sure you have a secure place to store your personal documents.
- Destroy excess personal information kept physically.
- Do not just throw personal information away, shred it first.
- Regularly review your bank statements to check for anything unusual. Report suspicious transactions immediately.
- When using an ATM cover your PIN and check the machine to see if there is anything strange or other not quite right fixtures attached to it.
How you can stay secure online
Here are some helpful tips to ensure you are secure online:
- Install anti-virus software on all devices where possible and ensure that routine scans are scheduled.
- Avoid using public access computers in internet cafes for internet banking.
- Use only trusted payment systems and secured websites.
- Be wary of strange emails offering deals that seem too good to be true or threaten a sense of urgency to comply with a demand. Even if the email appears to be coming from someone you trust, if it seems suspicious, treat it as suspicious.
- Never provide personal information to anyone who emails or calls you.
- Create long (minimum 14 character) and unique passwords and store them in a password manager. If you suspect that your details have been caught up in a data breach, this is when password resets should be enacted.
- Be careful about what you provide on social media and in emails;
- Delete excess personal information kept online.
- Enable 2 Factor Authentication (2FA) on all online accounts that support it.
- Enable Full Disk Encryption (FDE) on personal computers.
- Make sure that software updates are regularly installed for all of your devices.
How to recover your identity
If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft or that your identity may have been compromised, it is important that you act quickly to limit the fraudulent use of your identity.
You can take the following steps to minimise the fraudulent use of your identity.
IDCARE (“Identity Care Australia & New Zealand Ltd”) is a joint and public-private partnership organisation whose primary object is to support the interest of victims of identity theft and misuse, offering personalised support to individuals that are concerned about their personal information.
IDCARE provides a free and anonymous service to the community in response to identity and cyber crimes and will provide you with specific information and pathways to respond to your given circumstances without you having to find out yourself.
IDCARE is a partner of the Births Deaths and Marriages Registry and provides support for a range of identity theft issues, including those related to the Registry.
You can phone IDCARE between 8am and 5pm AEDT, Monday to Friday on:
All incidents of identity theft should be reported to your local police. Ask for a copy of the police report or reference number because banks, financial institutions and government agencies may ask for it.
Contact the government or private sector agency which issued the identity credential if you have lost it or if it has been stolen. Identity credentials include anything which can be used to identify you, such as your
- birth certificate
- driver licence
- credit cards
- digital credentials (such as your username and password).
Contact your bank or financial institution immediately and cancel all cards and accounts that may have been breached.
Contact a credit reporting agency
- To check for unauthorised transactions, IDCARE suggests you request a free credit report from all credit reporting agencies as some may gather credit information others have missed.
- It is advisable to check your credit report at least once per year for unauthorised inquiries made into your credit history.
- Inform the credit reporting agencies that you are a victim of identity crime and consider asking for an alert to be placed on your file so you are notified of requests for credit.
- A credit reporting agency is required by law to place a freeze on your credit report whilst the fraud is being investigated and to destroy any information contained in your credit report that has been tainted by fraud.
The Office of the Australian Information Commission is the independent national regulator for privacy and freedom of information. You can call them on 1300 363 992, or visit their website for information on Fraud and your credit report.
Contact the credit providers and businesses with which any unauthorised accounts have been opened in your name. This may include phone and utility providers, department stores and financial institutions.
Inform them that you have been a victim of identity theft and ask them to close the fraudulent accounts.
Most websites, including social networking sites and online trading sites have a help section that contains specific advice about what to do if your account has been hacked or a fake account has been set up.
Keep a record of your contact with organisations including the date and time of your contact, and who you spoke to.
Keep an eye on increased telephone and email scams and talk to family and friends.
A victims' certificate may help you to overcome problems in your personal and business affairs caused by identity crime. Victims' certificate schemes are available to victims of state and territory identity crimes in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.
If you are a victim of crime involving a NSW identity crime offence, you can apply to a Local Court for a victims' certificate.
Alert the Australian Tax office or if you are a child ask your parents to help you with this.