Identity FraudIt’s Identity Fraud Awareness Week 2013 this week running October 13 to October 19. Identity fraud can leave your credit file in ruins, and in some cases can mean a five year battle to recover your good name. Find out how protected you are from identity fraud by taking the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) online identity fraud survey. Read more about how identity crime can impact your credit file. Know the basic things to keep you and your credit file safe. And this week, take steps to safeguard yourself in the future, and pass on the message of safety to the people around you.

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

Identity theft victims who have had credit taken out in their name can often struggle to recover from having their identity stolen long after the initial fraud has occurred.

People can have mobile phones and credit cards taken out in their name as a minimum. Some can even have mortgages and cars purchased in their name.

The real pain comes when a victim discovers defaults on their credit file – which not only ruins their ability to obtain credit at the time, but those listings remain on their credit file for usually five years from the initial fraud.

What is not often realised is how difficult getting default listings removed from the credit file can be. Even for a victim of identity theft, there is no guarantee the defaults can be removed from their credit file. The victim often has to try to prove they didn’t instigate the credit in the first place. This can be difficult if victims are not aware of how or even when the identity theft occurred.

The Australian Crime Commission now sites high-tech organised crime as costing Australians $15billion a year, and is reported to be the fastest growing crime in the country. And the Australian public is starting to become concerned.

Results from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) 2013 Community Attitudes to Privacy survey were released last week. The survey reports that 48% of Australians believe that online services, including social media, now pose the greatest privacy risk. Only 9% of survey respondents considered social media websites to be trustworthy in protecting privacy.

To know if you may be vulnerable to identity fraud – take the AFP’s identity crime survey this week, and pass it on to people you know. Most involved in identity crime prevention agree that Australians need to increase their knowledge of identity theft, and how to protect themselves – particularly with the volume of computer use in this country. Here are some ways the AFP suggest we can all protect ourselves form identity theft:

How can I protect myself from becoming a victim of identity theft?

You can take some simple steps to reduce the risks of having your personal information stolen or misused:

  • secure your mail box with a lock and make sure mail is cleared regularly

  • 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

  • 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 that 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

  • be cautious of who you provide your personal and financial information to—ensure that there is a legitimate reason to supply your details. Don’t be reluctant to ask who will have access to your information and which third parties it may be supplied or sold to. Ask to see a copy of the Privacy Policy of the business before you supply your details

  • 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

  • regularly review your bank statements and obtain a copy of your credit history report. Report any unauthorised transactions or entries ASAP

  • ask your bank or financial institution for a credit or debit card with an embedded ‘micro-chip’—they are more secure than cards with only magnetic stripes

  • 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’

  • if responding to an online employment or rental advertisement, be wary of transmitting personal information and copies of documents via email or electronically. If asked to attend an interview, do some prior research to confirm the legitimacy of the company or employment agency

  • 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

  • for other useful tips, refer to the “Protecting Your Identity booklet – What Everyone Needs to Know (PDF, 700KB)“, published by the Attorney-General’s Department.

  • take our online identity crime survey to see how secure your identity is.

I believe it is also really important to be aware of what your credit file says, and to know if there have been any changes you haven’t initiated.

In my experience often credit file discrepancies can be the first sign we have been victims of identity theft. It is a good idea to regularly obtain a copy of your credit report to ensure that everything on your credit file is as it should be. Strange credit enquiries, changes of contact details, and of course default listings you are unaware of can mean someone has been using your identity.

A credit file report can be obtained for free every 12 months from the major credit reporting agencies Veda Advantage, Dun and Bradstreet and Tasmanian Collection Service and is sent to the owner of the credit file within 10 working days. Or you can pay to have it sent urgently.

If you are vulnerable to identity theft, you may also be able to purchase an alert service with credit reporting agencies – to be kept updated on any changes to your credit file which can indicate identity theft attempts.

This Identity Fraud Awareness Week, the take home message from MyCRA would be:

  • stay vigilant (you never know when identity theft could strike)
  • stay informed (fraudsters are always thinking of new ways to trick people so try to stay one step ahead – it might help to sign up for alert services from Stay Smart Online, and check the ACCC’s Scamwatch website regularly)
  • and talk to others (you don’t want family and friends to become the next victim).

Image: Victor Habbick/