30 Jul Identity Theft – How Criminals are Stealing your Money
Scams involving identity theft have cost Australians at least $16 million this year, and that figure is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg”, says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Worryingly, four in every 10 Scamwatch reports so far in 2019 have involved an attempt to gain information or the actual loss of a victim’s information through identity theft.
“If you think scammers might have gained access to your personal information, even in a scam completely unrelated to your finances, immediately contact your bank,” says ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“Timeliness in alerting your financial institution is absolutely crucial.”
Identity thieves can empty victims’ bank accounts, take out tens of thousands of dollars in bank loans under victims’ names, and purchase expensive furniture or electronics under ‘no-repayments for 12 months’ schemes.
“Identity thieves can make victims’ lives a nightmare. They’ll change the victims’ phone carrier so they lose service and set up mail redirections so they’re in the dark about what’s going on,” says Ms Rickard.
You might not even know until you apply for finance
Scarily, you might not even know you’ve fallen victim to identity theft until the day you have difficulty obtaining finance due to an inexplicably bad credit rating, points out ASIC.
This is why it’s important to regularly check your credit report, which you can do for free every year via MyCreditFile.com.au (Equifax).
ASIC says if you’re a victim of identity theft you should immediately tell the credit reporting agencies so it can be noted in your file.
“Check your credit report to see what companies have checked your credit history recently, and let them know not to authorise any new accounts in your name,” ASIC adds.
You can also consider placing a temporary ban on your credit report to give you time to report the matter to police, and then send the police report to the credit agencies.
While the freeze is in place (initially 21 days, but it can be extended), the credit reporting agencies cannot share your credit report with credit providers without your consent.
If you can prove you weren’t responsible for the fraudulent transactions then you’ll hopefully be able to get your credit score fixed.
How people fall victim to identity theft
Falling victim to identity theft hurts. It’s hard to believe there are people out there who are happy, willing and capable of doing the wrong thing. It can be a difficult concept to get your head around.
Here are just a few of the ways scammers steal your information:
- phishing emails and text messages which impersonate banks or utility providers seeking your login details
- fake online quizzes and surveys
- fake job advertisements
- remote access scams in which the scammer has direct access to everything on your computer
- sourcing information about you from social media platforms
- direct theft from your home letterbox
- sophisticated letter scams (think the Nigerian Prince and that rich dead Uncle you never knew you had)
How to protect yourself from identity theft
Vigilance is the key to protecting yourself from identity theft. Even then though, the most vigilant can fall prey to the sophisticated ways of scammers.
Here are a few ways to protect yourself from scammers:
- secure your letterbox with a lock and clear mail regularly, consider a PO Box if you are concerned
- shred personal papers once you no longer have a need for them
- think about why someone is asking you for personal information, is there a legitimate need? The mowing man isn’t going to need your Drivers License number and your mother’s maiden name….
- when out and about, don’t allow the shop hand/restaurant staff to take your debit/credit card to process payment. Keep your card in your possession the whole time.
- limit what you share on social media. Not everyone out there is your friend, despite what Facebook would have you believe.
- regularly update your online passwords. Make them tricky and impersonal.
The Australian Government’s Department of Home Affairs has a useful pamphlet with more ideas to help you protect your identity. It’s also available in other languages, you can download a copy here.
What to do if you’ve fallen victim
Firstly, don’t panic. Methodical and systematic is the best approach at this time.
Be alert to the signs of identity theft. Ensure you check your bank statements regularly for unknown transactions and pop a note in your calendar to check your credit report once a year.
If your mobile phone suddenly loses coverage, you start receiving unexpected notifications from your bank (or other banks you don’t do business with), expected mail hasn’t arrived or unusual mail has arrived you need to be asking questions. For starters, call your bank, call your telephone service provider, check out the Government’s Scamwatch website for examples of current scams doing the rounds.
If you have been the victim of identity theft, contact IDCARE on 1300 432 273. IDCARE can guide you through the steps to reclaim your identity.
People can also report any scams to the ACCC via Scamwatch.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and is presented for informative purposes. It is not intended to constitute financial advice, whether general or personal nor is it intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product. It does not take into consideration your personal situation and may not be relevant to circumstances. Before taking any action, consider your own particular circumstances and seek professional advice. This content is protected by copyright laws and various other intellectual property laws. It is not to be modified, reproduced or republished without prior written consent.
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