Identity theft – how to avoid it; what to look for; what to do

A 2007 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey shows over 500,000 people in Australia have been victims of identity fraud, with the majority coming from credit or bank card fraud.

Not only does identity theft cause financial hardship at the time, but can amount to a great number of defaults on your credit record.  Often by the time the Police become involved, you may have credit applications, possibly defaults, mortgages, and mobile phones already on your file incorrectly.

The culprits can range from scammers working overseas to local gangs.  It can also be someone you know. It’s important to be vigilant with keeping your personal information Image of Man stressed lookin through papers worried about Identity theftsecure.  Here are some things to be aware of.

The main ways your identity can be stolen:

Stealing your wallet or purse.  From there thieves may be able to gain your address, credit card details, bank details, drivers licence and more.

Forwarding your mail – Offenders can have your mail redirected to another address, where they will probably receive bank statements, phone bills, rates notices, or car registration information that they can use to steal your identity.

Card skimming on ATMs – where thieves set up a machine which skims your card’s details when you use the ATM.  There may also be a separate camera installed to record you entering your PIN number.  Or dodgy shops and restaurants have a separate ‘skimmer’ which they zip your card through, which reads your personal information and card details.

Online accessing of your personal information – this can be via social networking sites, where people often post information on birth dates, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.  The internet can also be used to access credit card and bank details by hackers.  Sometimes they use a combination of all in order to gather enough information to steal your identity.

Dumpster diving – Organised gangs can go through your rubbish looking for old rates notices, bank correspondence, phone bills, any documents that the organisation can then use to send some one to get a copy of a marriage certificate, a copy of your birth certificate, then a ‘replacement’ copy of your driver’s licence.  Once this is accomplished they can go as far as opening bank accounts or buying properties – all in your name.

Phishing scams –You receive an e-mail from your bank or trusted company, asking you for information. It looks real, but it’s designed to fool you into handing over important information.

Fraud ‘alerts‘ – Scammers pretend to be from your bank or similar place and contact you about possible fraud to your account – tricking you into handing over your information so they can rectify the problem.

Career Advertising – Scammers post fake job applications and then steal the personal information you provide to them.

The signs of identity fraud:

-Suspicious entries on your credit card statements, bank statements or statements for accounts you were not aware of holding.

-Money missing from your bank account/s

-Missing mail – eg not receiving mail from your bank, Centrelink etc.

-Credit refused somewhere.  If you feel there is no reason for the credit refusal, take     steps to get a report on your credit rating to find out where the default originated.

-Mail about credit applications you have not taken out yourself

-Phone calls or emails from ‘banks’ asking for your account details to be verified

What you can do to protect yourself from identity theft:

From this day forward, make sure your personal details are guarded very closely.

Buy a shredder for home and ‘cross shred’ every piece of personally identifiable information that is no longer required.  Never ever just throw away a bank statement or credit card statement.

Sign up to ‘My Veda Alert’ from credit reporting agency Veda Advantage to receive email alerts whenever a change to your credit file takes place for 12 months.  You also get a free copy of your credit file dispatched within one working day. Check all entries on your credit rating, and make sure each entry is valid and you have not already become a victim.

Be protective of your cards. Check the ATM before you use it for anything that looks out of the ordinary – particularly strange looking boxes attached to it.  If you are unsure, use another ATM and report your suspicions to the bank.

Also make it a habit to watch when someone swipes your credit card at a shop or restaurant.  This should only be done once from the one machine.

Make online safety paramount. Some recommendations from the government’s Stay Smart Online website are:

  • Install security software and update it regularly.
  • Turn on automatic updates so all your software receives the latest fixes
  • Set a strong password and change it at least twice a year
  • Stop and think before you click on links or attachments
  • Stop and think before you share any personal or financial information – about you, your friends or family
  • Know what your children are doing online – make sure they know how to stay safe and encourage them to report anything suspicious.

Always check your credit card statements and bank statements when they arrive and make sure every entry is yours.

Chase up missing mail. Be suspicious if you don’t receive bank statements or bills and contact the companies if it seems they have missed sending you statements for any reason.  It may not be a case of ‘no news is good news’.

Be wary when strangers call.  Be reluctant to give out personal information to anyone     who calls or emails claiming to be from a bank or similar institution.  If in doubt hang             up and verify the identity of the caller with the main phone number you have on file.

The Privacy Commissioner’s website has a great online questionnaire. This gives you an assessment of how vulnerable you may be to identity fraud.

What to do if you find yourself a victim of identity fraud:

1. Contact your local Police immediately.

2.  Contact your banks and any other relevant institution such as Medicare, Department of Transport, Department stores, anywhere where thieves might request ‘replacement’ copies of cards.

3.  Gather evidence of the identity fraud, and make copies of any discrepancies on your statements for the relevant authorities.

4.  Contact a reputable credit repairer such as My CRA, who will order a copy of your credit rating report, be able to check each entry on your file and remove the defaults completely from your file – which shouldn’t have been there in the first place.  This could save you money on lawyers and months of your time talking to creditors with the process taking from 3-21 working days (average).  We have a 97.1% success rate of removing defaults if we take on the case.

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