20 Jul Identity Theft – How Criminals are Stealing your Money
According to the Department of Home Affairs, scams involving identity theft have an economic impact of more than $2b per year on the Australian economy.
That’s a lot of moolah.
A long, long time ago I worked for a large credit provider doing outbound debt collecting (the most soul-destroying role ever). This was back in the early 2000’s when people filled in a paper application form and Driver’s Licenses were still just laminated pieces of easily tampered with paper.
The team I worked in was the ‘newly late’ team. The people who, generally, just hadn’t had a chance to pop into the Post Office that week to make their payment and were less than 7 days overdue.
The phone calls were light and fluffy: “just a friendly reminder”, “we know how busy life can get”, “would you like to set up a direct debit to ensure you aren’t late again (and copping 36% interest on your total balance while you are overdue…..*ahem*)” type calls. At 7 days, we were the first line of defence. Once you started getting into the 30 days team things were not at all rainbows and unicorns.
What surprised me at the time is the number of people I spoke to who claimed no knowledge of their debt.
I remember thinking to myself, how on earth could you not remember how you came to have that new Pioneer sound set-up with the fully sick sub-woofer? Or that new Honda dirt bike? Or that engagement ring twinkling on your fiancé’s finger?
So, I started asking a few questions of people in other teams and eventually I found myself with the fraud team and learning all about identity theft.
That’s when things became really clear and I developed the once a year habit I’ll share below :)
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 such a wrong thing and in such a deceptive way.
It can be a difficult concept to get your head around.
Things haven’t changed much since my debt collecting days. Sure, technology is more capable and advanced, yet scammers still manage to be ahead of the latest tech and capable of finding a way around systems and processes.
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 (as I write this there is a new Westpac phishing scam doing the rounds)
- fake online quizzes and surveys, including the ‘Google says you’ve won an iPhone’ pop-up – totally not legit.
- 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)
The yearly habit.
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.
The top tip I learned from my debt collection days was to complete a free credit check on myself each year.
It’s incredibly simple and you can do one for free every year via Equifax, Illion or Experian (if you want to do it more frequently, that’s cool, they cost about $10 a report. There is even a function that you can set up that alerts you when an application for credit has been made with your details).
We do ours each year while we’re preparing our taxes – it takes about 10 minutes to do my husband’s and mine and the report comes through quickly via email. A quick read over the report should, in an ideal world, show only the liabilities you currently hold and any applications for finance/contracts that you have made.
If there is something on there that doesn’t look right, ASIC says 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 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 and tap tap tap it
- 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 at tax time.
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 and 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.
National Scams Awareness Week 2020
You know a problem is for reals when an entire week is dedicated to its awareness.
Each year we participate in Fraud Week – an international fraud awareness campaign that runs around the world in September. This year we will also be participating in the National Scams Awareness Week 2020.
Running from 17-21 August, the focus is on scams and identity theft. Keep an eye out on our socials (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Insta) for all sorts of fun facts, helpful tips and information to help you protect your identity, and not fall prey to scammers.
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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