Have you been locked out of your Facebook account? Fallen for a request to give over personal details to a fraudster? Or had that horrible sinking feeling when you realise someone has been taking money out of your bank accounts? Or perhaps as was recently the case in W.A., you may have had a property sold from underneath you while overseas?

These are all forms of identity theft in varying degrees. Someone steals your personal information in order to set up a fake identity for the purposes of using your good name, your financial identity, and possibly your credit rating for their own purposes.

You are not alone, and you should not be too embarrassed to take action against this crime, however sheepish you may feel. It is an ever-growing problem – the fastest growing crime in Australia. A recent survey commissioned by the Attorney-General’s office shows 1 in 6 people in this country currently have been victims of identity theft, or know someone who has had their identity misused.

Some instances of identity theft are relatively easy to recover from, others are a major source of heartache and disruption to people’s lives.

The Attorney-General has produced an Identity Theft booklet which includes the steps you need to take as soon as you discover you may be an identity theft victim:

Immediately inform the police. All incidents of identity theft should be reported to your local police even if only small sums are involved. Ask for a copy of the police report—most banks or other financial institutions will ask you for a copy.

Close all unauthorised accounts. Contact the credit providers and businesses with whom any unauthorised accounts have been opened in your name. Remember this includes phone and other utility providers, department stores and financial institutions. Inform them that you have been a victim of identity theft and ask them to close the fraudulent accounts.

Alert your bank or financial institution. Contact your bank or financial institution immediately and cancel all cards and accounts that may have been breached. Ask for new cards and accounts with new Personal  Numbers (PINs).

Get a copy of your credit report. Inform the credit reporting agencies that you are a victim of identity theft. Ask that an alert be placed on your file that advises this. This should stop additional fraudulent accounts being opened in your name.

Review your credit report carefully. Ensure you can authenticate all ‘inquiries’ made into your credit history. Contact all companies and organisations that have made inquiries under your name that you did not authorise.

Keep all documentation. Take notes that include dates, names, contact details and what was said during your contact with those agencies. Follow up all conversations and requests in writing, and send these by certified mail if you need to post them. Keep copies of all forms and correspondence.

Report loss or theft of documents to the relevant government or private sector agencies. Contact the relevant government and private sector agencies if you have lost specific documents or items, or had them stolen.

Contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner if you feel your privacy has been breached. If you feel that your privacy has been breached because of identity theft, or an agency or organisation is being difficult about rectifying privacy matters, then you can contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Their Enquiries Line is available to help you work out if a privacy breach may have occurred. However, it is important that if you intend to lodge a complaint, that you first try and resolve matters with the agency or organisation concerned.

Government-assisted Recovery

Recovery from identity theft can be assisted in some instances if you are eligible to apply for a Victims of Commonwealth Identity Crime Certificate. Generally Police will advise you if the crime against you falls under this jurisdiction. It can improve the chances of recover greatly by having this certificate to provide to Government agencies, and financial institutions in which a Commonwealth indictable offence was committed against you.

The Attorney General’s website says a Commonwealth identity crime occurs where a person makes, supplies or uses identification information (yours, or a third party’s). They do this intending that either they or someone else will pretend to be you or another person (who is living, dead, real or fictitious), and the act of pretending would be done to commit or help commit a Commonwealth indictable offence.

But the instances in which an actual Commonwealth indictable offence is committed may be less common.

Examples of victims of Commonwealth identity crime are:

■your birth certificate was used by someone else to falsely claim a payment from Centrelink in your name
■a person pretended to be you by using your identification details to have your Medicare rebates redirected to their bank account
■a person used your credit card without your permission to purchase and import illegal substances
■a person established a false business in your name to fraudulently claim GST, and
■a person used your passport or citizenship details to pass themselves off as you and travel overseas.

The common identity theft victim who has had their personal details stolen and fraudsters have taken out credit cards in their name, it seems would not be eligible for the Commonwealth Victims of Crime certificate.

For other very common type of identity theft through scams that were initiated outside Australia where victims have provided personal details and money – the Government’s SCAMwatch website warns victims recovery and restitution may also be difficult for victims:

“due to the ‘fly by night’ nature of many scammers, it is extremely difficult to track them down and take action against them. Though it depends on the circumstances of each case, the ACCC may not be able to take action or enforce Australian Court orders against the many scammers that are based outside of
Australia.” the SCAMWatch website explains.

Identity theft and credit ratings

If your bank accounts have been skimmed, the bank may have insurance to cover your loss due to this fraud. But if your credit rating has been damaged, and there are defaults, writs and Judgments on your credit file that should not be there, recovery can be a complicated matter. Basically your credit reports show you as owing debts and you are considered unsuitable to lend money to.

Some identity theft victims find they hit a wall when attempting to recover their credit rating as the laws which govern credit reporting and the listing of negative data on people’s credit files are difficult for them to navigate. Victims say it is up to them to prove the case of identity theft, to prove to creditors they did not initiate the credit and some say this is confusing and frustrating for them.

Instilling the services of a credit repairer may be helpful to your case, as the credit rating recovery can be enhanced by having a person better skilled at dealing with creditors and with complete knowledge of relevant laws and regulations which would apply to your circumstances.

The way lending works in Australia, one default makes it just as difficult to get credit as does 3. So even if people can strike a helpful creditor in one or two instances, they may be unsuccessful in removing all negative listings by themselves. Each default remains on a person’s credit file for 5 years, so if you want the best chance of getting a home loan, a car loan or even credit cards and mobile phones over the next 5 years, it could be best to leave it to the professionals.

For more help with clearing a credit rating following identity theft, contact MyCRA Credit Repairs Tollfree 1300 667 218 or visit our main website www.mycra.com.au.

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