It is where a person has stolen and used personal information or assumed a pre-existing identity, with or without that person’s permission, and in the case of an individual, whether the person is alive or dead. Businesses may also be victims of identity theft. Having your identity stolen can be devastating.
Quite often your stolen identity documents are used by the offender for opening and operating fictitious bank accounts in your name or accessing your bank accounts. The sort of documents offenders steal are credit cards, driver’s licences, utility bills, bank and credit card statements, and any other documents containing personal information.
How it happens
Identity theft can happen in many ways. It can range from someone using your credit illegally, to having your entire identity assumed by another person and business conducted in your name without your consent. Important personal information can be accessed by a determined thief, despite your best efforts.
- Your wallet or purse is stolen with all your identifying cards.
- Your home is burgled and personal documents stolen. Important documents, such as bank statements, credit cards, utility bills and taxation return, are stolen from your letterbox. Mail is diverted to another address without your knowledge.
- Recycle rubbish bins being searched.
- Being the victim of a scam, where you have been conned into providing personal information over the telephone or by email (request for money - advanced fee fraud or phishing).
- Your personal computer may have been compromised with malicious software or hackers / criminals may compromise the computers of businesses that hold your personal information.
- Credit card details may be captured by hidden devices during an ATM or EFTPOS transaction (ATM credit card skimming) or your PIN number may be seen by someone in the queue (shoulder surfing).
- Credit cards may be skimmed at retail outlets or restaurants.
What does a criminal do with my personal information?
Once a criminal has the information he needs he could for example:
- Apply for a credit card in your name.
- Open a bank or building society account in your name.
- Apply for other financial services in your name.
- Run up debts (e.g. Use your credit/debit card details to make purchase) or obtain a loan in your name.
- Apply for any benefits in your name (e.g. Housing benefit, new tax credits, income support, job seeker's allowance, child benefit).
- Apply for a driver’s licence in your name.
- Register a vehicle in your name.
- Apply for job/employment in your name.
- Apply for a passport in your name.
- Apply for a mobile phone contract in your name.
How to protect yourself
Personal information is shared almost everyday as you pay bills, log on to a computer, or engage with any number of transactions with other people and organisations. You can take an active role in reducing the risk of your identity being used without your knowledge. You need to recognise where you might be vulnerable and then make changes to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Aim to provide a minimum amount of information about yourself.
- Destroy or shred identifying information when you are throwing out personal papers. That also includes ‘pre-approved credit card applications’.
- Shred or destroy your personal and financial papers before you throw them away, or keep them in a secure place if you wish to retain them.
- Conduct regular checks / reconciliations of your billing and account records (credit card, cheque and mortgage accounts).
- Limit the amount of credit you have in your ‘everyday’ accounts.
- Obtain a copy of your credit rating report regularly.
- Place passwords on all your important accounts.
- Memorise passwords and avoid using obvious passwords.
- Secure your personal information at home.
- Collect new cheque books or credit cards in person from the bank.
- Secure your mail with a lockable letterbox and only post mail at official post boxes.
- Remove your name from mailing lists if you receive unsolicited mail.
- Write cheques and fill out forms carefully so that they cannot be altered easily.
- Keep a list of all your accounts and credit cards in a secure place.
- Always cover the keypad at ATMs or on EFTPOS terminals when entering your PIN, and be aware of your surroundings – is anyone trying to observe or watch you, are there any strange or loose fixtures attached to the machine or terminal?
- Ensure the virus and security software on your computers and mobile devices is up-to-date and current.
- Don't use public computers (for instance, at an internet café), or unsecured wireless ‘hotspots’, to do your internet banking or payments.
- Only use trusted online payment websites for items won at online auctions or purchased online. Never make payments outside of trusted systems – particularly for goods which you have not yet received.
- Do not respond to scam emails or letters promising huge rewards if bank account details are supplied, or in return for the payment of "release fees" or "legal fees".
- In relation to social networking sites, always use the most secure settings. Take extreme care if placing personal details such as date of birth, address, phone contacts or educational details on your profile, and do not accept unsolicited "friend" requests.
- Leave anything in your car glove box that could identify you.
- Provide personal information over the phone or by email to people you do not know or trust.
- Let your credit card out of your sight when paying a bill.
- Lend your personal documents to others.
- Carry extra personal information unless you have to.
- Leave your wallet / purse unattended at the gym, parties, in shopping trolleys, etc.
- Send original proof of identity documents in the mail.
How to report identity theft
It is important to act quickly if your personal information is compromised. Identity theft can be reported to the Police Assistance Centre on 131444. Collect and keep any documentation that will help police in investigating the crime.
The following steps may also be necessary.
- Contact your bank or credit provider immediately and cancel all cards.
- Freeze or close all accounts to which the thief may have gained access.
- Open new accounts with new PINs and passwords.
- Contact the Credit Reporting Agency (Veda Advantage) and ask that an alert be placed on your file.
- Check your credit file carefully for unauthorised transactions or changes.
- Keep all documentary evidence of fraud.
The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department has developed a kit to prevent and respond to identity theft. This is known as the ID Theft Kit.
For further ways in which you can safeguard your identity please visit the NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages website.
Victims of Identity Crime Certificates
The Western Australian Government and the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department have made provisions for victims of identity crimes to be granted an Identity Crime Certificate.
For fraud identity offences that are committed within Western Australia the court may issue the certificate on its own initiative, on an application made by the prosecutor or the victim.
The certificate issued to the victim of the offence will set out;
- The identity offence to which the certificate relates.
- The name of the victim.
- Any other matter the court considers relevant.
For fraud identity offences that relate to Commonwealth identity crimes, the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department has commenced a scheme associated with the provision of certificates where an individual or a business is the victim of Commonwealth Identity Crime.
The certificate will name the victim (an individual or business) and will describe the manner in which the person has been a victim of Commonwealth identity crime. The victim may then present the certificate, and any other relevant information, to a Government agency or other organisation, to help support their claim that they have been a victim of Commonwealth identity crime, and to seek assistance in rectifying problems they have suffered as a consequence of the crime. The certificate does not, however, bind an organisation to take action.
Further information about Commonwealth victims' certificates can be accessed here.
SUPPORT: For assistance and counselling services please go to ScamNet - Help for Victims. If you need to speak to someone urgently call Lifeline on 13 11 14.