It is reported that possibly as many as 24 per cent of Australians* have been, or knows someone who has been, a victim of identity crime in the last six months. As this week is National Identity Fraud Awareness Week, we are hoping to do our part to raise awareness about this crime. Victims are not always ‘gullible’ as may be the impression in the wider community. Many experts say it is not a matter of if you experience an identity theft attempt, but when. So we look at the facts on identity crime both worldwide and in Australia, and hope to educate more people about this new crime wave, as it can severely impact your credit file and hinder your ability to obtain credit. It could also help to pass the information on to someone you know.

By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs and

Australian Federal Police released a statement yesterday warning Australians to defend themselves against identity crime. AFP National Coordinator Identity Security Strike Team’s Darren Booy said this year’s focus is on limiting the amount of personl information that falls into the hands of criminals.

“Identity fraud is an emerging threat to Australia and is growing rapidly, with identity fraudsters using increasingly sophisticated methods to manipulate their victims,” Superintendant Booy said in a statement to the media.

Who commits identity theft?

It can originate from someone you know – for example an acquaintance obtains identity documents or credit card details to impersonate you. Or more increasingly it comes from professional fraudsters whose main occupation is to steal personal information and financial details in order to commit fraud. These fraudsters are reportedly part of a network of criminals possibly involved in many other crimes. The Australian Federal Police recently stated that most large crime groups have built identity theft into their repertoire.

The key to successful identity theft is obtaining your vital personal information. The internet is a big source of personal information and its ever increasing use makes you more vulnerable to identity crime than ever.  This means identity crime can have very long arms and can originate overseas. Social networking, online banking, company databases and email scams can all be havens for today’s cyber- criminal.

You can also fall victim to a number of rampant telephone scams, credit card skimming, or criminals can also take to going through your rubbish bin for anything they may be able to use to steal your identity.

Why is identity theft increasing?

The pay-offs are huge for criminals. It is estimated by the Australian Crime Commission that identity crime costs Australians $1 billion a year.( OECD Committee on Consumer Policy, Online Identity Theft, February 2009, p. 37).

In cyber circles alone, world estimated costs for cybercrime are staggering.

Cyber-crime expert Mischa Glenny says that while there are no precise figures out there, the White House suggested in 2009 that cybercime and industrial espionage inflicts damage of around U.S.$1tn per year, which is almost 1.75% of GDP.

“Traditional bank robbers must be absolutely gobsmacked when they hear sums like this being hoovered up by cyber- criminals week in, week out,” he said in an article Cybercrime: is it out of control?

How would identity theft impact my life?

We consider if someone is alerted to having money stolen from credit cards early, or perhaps is able to call their bank and stop fraud in its tracks – that they are the lucky ones.

The unlucky identity theft victim is unaware of the fraud until their identity is misused, and their credit rating with it. When identity theft damages your credit rating – it is because the fraudster has been able to overtake credit accounts, or has gained access to enough personally identifiable information about you to forge new identity documents.

This gives the fraudster access to credit cards, loans, even mortgages which allows them to extract significant amounts of money without you realising it straight away.

Fraudsters are never kind enough to pay back the credit they obtain in your name. After 60 days you may be issued with written notification of non-payment and the intention for the creditor to list a default on your credit file. It is at this moment that some people who were previously unaware of any problems find out they have been victims of this more sophisticated type of identity theft.

But often the credit file holder has also had their contact details changed – and this means it is not until they apply for credit in their own right and are refused that they find out about the identity fraud. This can be a significant time after the initial crime.

When would I know if I have been a victim of identity theft?

Some signs to watch out for include:

1. Strange unaccountable withdrawals on credit or personal bank accounts. It may not need to be a big amount to indicate fraud. Many criminals do ‘test’ amounts to begin with before extracting more significant amounts.

2. Phone calls or emails from what often appear to be legitimate companies, asking for money or personal details. If you have given bank details or personal information in this way either online or on the phone there is a high chance it was a scam. Verify with the company in question.

3. Can’t log in to social networking or bank accounts.

4. Credit refusal

5. Bills or letters of demand sent to you for accounts you don’t know about

6. Missing mail – particularly credit card statements which could indicate someone has overtaken your accounts. In this case no news is not good news.

What steps can I take to prevent identity theft?

1. Keep virus software up to date on your computer. Install automatic updates and perform regular virus scans.

2. Keep your privacy settings secure on all social networking sites.

3. Keep your passwords and PIN numbers secure. Don’t carry PIN numbers with your credit/debit cards, change passwords regularly and use a variety of passwords for different purposes.

4. Check all your credit card and bank statements each time they come in.

5. Cross-shred all personally identifiable information which you no longer need.

6. Buy a safe for your personal information at home.

7. Do not give any personal information or credit card details to anyone via phone or email unless you are sure the site is secure, and or you can verify the company details.

8. Be aware of who gets our personal information and for what purposes. What can these people do with the information they are gathering? For instance, is it really necessary for the site you are registering on to have your date of birth?

9. Keep up to date with the latest scams by subscribing to the ACCC’s ‘SCAM watch’ website. For a list of ways your computer can put you at risk, visit the governments Stay Smart Online website

10. Check your credit file regularly. A credit check at least every 12 months (which is free annually) will alert you to any suspicious activity with your credit file.

If you think you might be vulnerable to identity theft, here are some things you need to do:

What can I do if I suspect I am a victim of identity theft?

1. Notify Police immediately. Many people do nothing due to embarrassment, or because they don’t believe the fraud was significant enough. But is only through this crime getting reported that statistics get collated, and we start to have any chance of catching the criminals.

2. Notify creditors. You may need to cancel credit accounts.

3. Obtain a credit report. This report is free once per year for every Australian who holds a credit file. It will indicate to you whether any of your contact details have changed, or whether there have been credit enquiries on your account. If you act quickly enough, you may be able to stop your credit rating from being affected by black marks which would come from fraudsters obtaining credit in your name.

4. Notify credit reporting agencies of the possible fraud. They will be able to put an alert on your credit file.

5. Police may assist you in obtaining a Victims of Commonwealth Identity Crime certificate, if they believe you are eligible. You can apply to a magistrate in your State for this certificate, which may help in recovering your credit rating or credit accounts. Victims need to have had a Commonwealth Indictable Offence committed against them. For more information, visit the Attorney-General’s website

If you or someone you know needs help recovering their credit rating following identity theft, contact MyCRA Credit Repairs, or call a Credit Repair Advisor tollfree on 1300 667 218 for confidential advice and help restoring your good name.

The Australian Federal Police have established an Identity Crime Survey to test people’s vulnerability to identity crime, and we encourage everyone to take the test: