Ten Tips for protecting your identity

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Identity theft is a type of fraud which involves stealing money or gaining other benefits by pretending to be someone else. Having your identity stolen can be both financially and emotionally devastating.

Identity theft can occur in many ways—from somebody using your credit card details illegally to make purchases, to having your entire identity assumed by another person to open bank accounts, take out loans and conducting illegal business under your name.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Fraud Survey 2010-11, Australians lost $1.4 billion due to personal fraud.

The survey estimated a total of 1.2 million Australians aged 15 years and over were victim of at least one incident of identity fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey interview.  This is an increase from 806,000 victims of personal fraud in 2007 – a 5 per cent increase.

Around 4.4 million Australians (26 per cent) have now been affected by identity theft, according to a study conducted by Galaxy Research for Veda Advantage’s Indexed Identity Theft Report.

Once your identity has been stolen it can be almost impossible to recover.  Apart from the financial and emotional stress your stolen identity would create, you may have problems for years to come.

Some of the things that criminals may be able to do with your identity include:

  • accessing to your money and other accounts with your bank
  • opening new accounts and accumulating debts in your name
  • taking control of your accounts including by changing the address on your credit card or other accounts so you don’t receive statements and don’t realise there is a problem
  • opening a phone, internet or other service account in your name

Here are ten tips for protecting your identity:

  1. Secure your personal documents:
    1. at home,
    2. when you are travelling and
    3. if you need to destroy them.

You may want to consider installing a fireproof safe at home to securely keep your passports, birth certificates, insurance details, home ownership deeds, medical records etc.

Don’t forget to make copies of important documents and store these securely – as this will be useful in getting them re-issued and also help you verify your identity.

Shredding personal documents before putting them in a bin is also a good idea.  You should destroy important documents such as account statements, bills, identity credentials and credit cards before throwing them out.

 

  1. Secure your mailbox with a lock and when you move, redirect your mail.

Some scammers have stolen identities by stealing mail from their victim’s mailboxes.  Mail theft is recognized as the most common source of identity theft.

 

  1. Be cautious about using social media and limit the amount of personal information you publish online.

Be careful about the type of personal information you post on your social media profile.  This may include information about your date of birth, your address and your mother’s maiden name.

Limit the information about living individuals on online family trees.  Information such as their name, date of birth and mother’s maiden name could be used to commit identity theft.

 

  1. Secure your computer and mobile phone using security software and strong passwords.

Protect your computer by using passwords and access controls.  Try to memorise your passwords and PINs, or store them in a safe place.  Using different passwords and usernames for different sites is also a good idea – so that if one account is compromised, the others will not be vulnerable.

 

  1. Learn how to avoid common scams by visiting the SCAMWatch website http://www.scamwatch.gov.au

 

  1. Be cautious about requests for your personal information over the internet, phone and in person in case it is a scam.

If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone wanting to know your personal details—hang up.  Banks and financial institutions may contact you if there is suspected fraudulent activity with your account.  If you do need to provide personal information over the phone, hang up and contact the organisation through the advertised number on their website or in the phone directory.

 

  1. Investigate the arrival of new credit cards you didn’t ask for or bills for goods and services that aren’t yours.

If you start to receive new credit cards and/or bills for goods and services that you didn’t order, you may have been a victim of identity theft.  Contact your bank or the police if this happens.

 

  1. Be alert for any unusual bank transactions or missing mail.

Alert your bank or financial institution of any suspicious transactions.  Cancel all credit cards and close accounts that may have been breached.

  1. If you are a victim of identity theft, report it to the police and any relevant organisations.

All incidents of identity theft should be reported to your local police. Ask for a copy of the police report or a crime reference number because banks, financial institutions and government agencies may ask for it.

 

  1. Order a free copy of your credit report from a credit reporting agency on a regular basis, particularly if your identity has been stolen.  You can get one from Veda at http://www.mycreditfile.com.au/home/free-credit-file.dot