Do you keep your letterbox locked? Do you change your computer passwords and bank account PINs often? If you don’t you may fall victim to identity theft.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2007 there were over 620,000 victims of identity fraud and identity theft in Australia. (ABS Statistics 4528.0, Personal Fraud Australia, 2007)
Identity theft is where someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception. Typically, it’s when a criminal steals or comes into possession of your personal information such as your name, passwords, credit/debit card details, address, date of birth, bank account, drivers’ licence etc and assumes your identity to commit fraud.
There are a number of different ways scammers can steal your identity. They can easily get a lot of personal information about you from:
- your wallet or purse;
- rummaging through your rubbish; or
- stealing your mail.
If you use online banking you should be particularly careful. Scammers sometimes send emails pretending to be from your financial institution asking for your account details and passwords. Or they can use software to spy on your computer.
Case study: Private Tim Jones’ email
One day Private Jones received an email that seemed to be from his bank asking him to re-confirm his personal details and re-set his password. Private Jones had never received a request like this before but thought it was a good idea and the email looked real after all.
After clicking on the link in the email he was taken to a plain-looking website where he was supposed to enter his details. Alarm bells rang and he decided to phone his bank to see if the request was legitimate. They informed him that it was a scam where criminals collect your personal details and passwords so they can access your money in your account.
The bank also confirmed that they would never ask someone to provide personal details through an email.
Ways you can protect your financial identity.
- Check your credit report at least once a year. This way you can make sure no-one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts. You can get a free copy of your credit report from Veda Advantage and Dun and Bradstreet.
- Thoroughly check your account statements and make sure you receive all expected mail such as statements and bills. Follow up any unfamiliar transactions on your bank account statement by contacting your bank or financial institution. A missing letter could indicate that a thief stole the letter from your letterbox or changed your billing address.
- Destroy personal information – don’t just throw it out. You should shred or cut up old bills, account statements or cards to prevent scammers from getting hold of your personal information.
- Lock your letterbox. Make sure that you have a secure lockable letterbox. Check the letterbox regularly and remove mail shortly after it has been delivered. If you are going away ask a neighbour you can trust to collect your mail for you or ask the Post Office to keep it for you until you get back.
- Make your passwords for online activities such as banking, hard to guess. Use combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation for your passwords and change them frequently.
- Never put financial information (such as account numbers, credit card numbers, PINs or passwords) in an email. Email is not secure. Scammers can intercept your email, find out your email address and guess your online email password.
- Never do internet banking on public computers. Public computers may have less security than your own and the details of your activities may be stored.
- When you use a secure website on your computer, such as your bank website or your email, make sure you always log out fully.
- Disable pop-ups in your browser so that scammers cannot install a keylogger program on your PC. Most internet browsers let you block pop-ups by selecting ‘Turn on pop-up blocker’ or a variation of this term under the ‘Tools’ or ‘Settings’ menu.
If you think your identity has been stolen…
If you think your identity has been compromised you should contact the following organisations:
- Your financial institution to report any unauthorised transactions
- Your local, State or Territory police
- Your local Post Office to see if your mail has been diverted to another address
- A credit reporting agency to let them know your credit report may have been compromised.
E-mail ASIC with topics that interest you via ADFcolumn@asic.gov.au.
Tony D’Aloisio BA LLB (Hons)
Australian Securities & Investments Commission