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Identity theft


Tips to avoid becoming a target for scammers.

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Ever had that sickening feeling that someone has compromised your personal information, stolen your identity or taken funds from your account? Unfortunately, you’re not alone: an AIC survey found that identity crime affects one in four Australians at some point.

And despite young people being tech savvy, studies show that Australians under 25 are not immune. Scamwatch found this age group lost over $5 million to scams in 2019.

Not surprisingly, Facebook and Instagram were the most common platforms targeting young people – either via online shopping scams or the sale of fake tickets to events.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when someone steals key personal data such as your name, date of birth, driver’s license number and other identifying information.

Criminals can then use this information to pose as you in an attempt to steal money from your accounts, open a fake bank account or apply for things such as a mortgage, passport or credit card in your name.

Having your identity stolen is not only inconvenient and upsetting, but it could significantly impact your credit rating, so preventing it from happening in the first place is key.

How does identity theft occur?

There are an increasing number of ways that identity thieves can get access to your personal information. Here are a few common ones:

  • Online shopping scams, where you’re directed to a fake site and use your credit card to buy goods that will never arrive
  • Telemarketing scams, where you take a call and are manipulated into giving someone information about yourself (or remote access to your computer)
  • Unsecured websites or public Wi-Fi that criminals can hack and access your personal information or passwords
  • Theft of mail and documents containing bank details or tax information
  • If you’re on dating sites or use your credit card to pay for certain things online, those sites may be compromised, leaving your personal data more easy to steal
  • Phishing emails or fake websites which are built to look exactly like a legitimate online banking website and designed to get you to enter in your username and password
  • Your bag or wallet may be stolen, giving criminals access to your ID and cards.

How do you know it’s happened to you?

Often, victims of identity theft aren’t even aware that it’s happened to them, but there are red flags to look out for. These include:

  • Unusual bills or charges on your bank statements that you don’t recognise
  • Mail or utility bills not arriving as it normally would
  • You receive strange emails
  • You get calls about products and services you’ve never paid for or used.

How can you fix it if it does happen to you?

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, it’s important to act fast and report the crime to police as soon as you can. Make sure you note down the police report number so you can give it to your bank.

Your next step is to contact your bank so they can block your accounts and prevent scammers accessing your money. You may also need to cancel existing credit cards and get replacements issued to you. Sometimes your lender can perform a ‘charge-back’ – reversing a fraudulent credit card transaction – which might help you recover stolen funds.

You’ll also need to change your passwords on all accounts immediately – think email accounts, social media accounts, banking logins and other key accounts that you log into regularly. Let family and friends know that you’ve been hacked, too.

Don’t forget to report the incident to the ACCC’s Scamwatch and you may also wish to contact the consumer protection agency in your State for additional information.

Reversing the damage

It can be distressing and overwhelming to find out that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud – and sometimes an uphill battle to restore your identity and credit rating.

Seek counselling and advice if you need it and find out if you’re eligible for a Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate, which will help support your claim that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. The certificate can be used to help you re-establish your identity and credentials with businesses or government agencies, or if you’re trying to negotiate having a fraudulent transaction removed from their records.

Protecting yourself in the future

Firstly, be aware that no one is immune – including you.

Scammers are smart, adept at catching you off guard when you’re not expecting it – and it’s easy for even the most tech-savvy person to get taken in. Criminals also tap into your fears or take advantage of people during vulnerable times – for example, just consider the many coronavirus scams that started targeting people when the pandemic hit.

Some tips for protecting yourself include:

  • Choose strong passwords and use a password safe to securely store them
  • Be alert that scammers exist and always consider any approach could be a scam
  • When purchasing tickets to events online always buy from authorised sellers
  • Be careful when shopping online and always shop at stores you know and trust
  • Be wary when asked for payment methods such as gift cards or bitcoin
  • Delete suspicious texts and emails and close pop-up windows
  • Don’t allow random callers to gain remote access to your computer – just hang up, even if they pretend to be from a legitimate company such as Telstra
  • Invest in a PO box and have all your mail sent there rather than to your home
  • Shred important documents before throwing them out
  • Protect your WIFI network with a password and avoid using public hotspots when accessing online banking or providing personal information
  • Be careful about the personal information you provide online – ignore those seemingly innocent games on Facebook inviting you to share your name and birthday, or identifying details about yourself.
  • Regularly review your privacy and security settings on social media.

Being scammed or having your identity stolen is a lot more common than we may think and it’s critical to be aware of scams and alert to any possibility of it happening to you.

If you’re unlucky enough to become the victim of identity theft, ensure you act fast to report the crime and to take steps to restore your identity.

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Any links to third party websites are for your information only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication.

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