Technology law expert Profressor Faye Jones and University of South Australia law lecturer Dr Clare Sullivan warn that the rising menace of extreme identity theft looms large. In a UniSA law seminar ‘Extreme identity theft: an international challenge’ they spoke about the ongoing threat of identity theft. We look at their release to the media on this fascinating topic. They implore people to understand how valuable their personal information is, and to guard it accordingly. No one wants to end up a victim of identity theft, and have their credit file misused.
By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair and www.fixmybadcredit.com.au.
…Dr Sullivan, an expert on digital identity, highlights an example in the US of a teacher who, upon discovering she had a bad credit rating, unravelled a 10 year long trail of deception in which a person had forged her identity, bought a house and gained employment – using her details.
The anonymity attached to online behaviour and the amount of personal data that is readily available online has made it easier for false digital identities to be created or assumed, says Dr Sullivan.
“Years ago in Melbourne there was an identity thief who would use the names and dates of births on peoples’ tombstones to apply for birth certificates. With that, they would open a bank account, apply for employment registration cards and then passports.
“These days that information is even more readily available. A full name, date of birth, gender and one other piece of identification, most often a signature or a PIN number, are sometimes all that is needed to steal a person’s identity.”
“Most often people do this for reasons of fraud and their victims may not know what has happened until weeks or months later. The victim is on the back foot and they have to prove that they are who they say they are and that is not necessarily easy.”
As to possible remedies, the suggestions of keeping Government compiled databases on individuals’ identities would have huge privacy and security implications.
“Once you start putting those things into just one big database, well no database is secure,” Dr Sullivan says.
“This was an issue for the UK and their identity scheme. In a way it’s more vulnerable – it’s like putting all the crown jewels in just one cupboard.
“Technological innovations, including those which use biometrics – fingerprints, face scans and iris scans have error rates. Sometimes the error rate is low but they do exist. TV shows like CSI give a public perception that biometrics are infallible but they are not.”
“The best advice is to recognise just how valuable your personal information is, try not to collect all your details together in one place and also try to build personal relations with people in organisations, like a bank for example, who will recognise you, who could verify your identity.”
The absence of personal contact in the modern world is one of the reasons why identify theft is easier to facilitate says Dr Sullivan, and the assumption of a person’s identity is an issue not just confined to electronic fraud.
In an echo of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Catch Me If You Can, which charted the life of a young con artist, in January a teenager who had impersonated doctors in hospitals in Adelaide was arrested and charged with identity theft.
Pretty scary stuff. What’s worse is the identity theft victim then needs to prove to Creditors they didn’t initiate the credit in their name in order to have the offending defaults removed from their credit file. This is not always an easy thing to do with very few consumers knowing what to say to get the right information they need to prove their case and often the identity theft taking place long before the victim finds out about it.
According to a survey in the U.S. by Javelin Strategy and Research, incidents of identity fraud in the United States are at their highest in three years. Incidents of identity fraud affected 5.26 percent of U.S. adults last year. That’s up from 4.9 percent in 2011 and 4.35 percent in 2010. The company put the total number of identity victims in 2012 at 12.6 million.
In Australia, it is evident we are not immune and it is important to stay vigilant. Here are some simple steps you can take NOW to improve your chances of avoiding identity theft.
What You Can Do 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, rather than throwing it straight in the bin.
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 your 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 government’s ‘SCAM watch’ website.
10. Check your credit file for free every 12 months. By requesting a copy of your credit file from one or more of the major credit reporting agencies, Veda Advantage, Dun & Bradstreet and Tasmanian Collection Service (TASCOL) you can be aware of any discrepancies which may need to be investigated. Often it is only through a credit check which comes back with defaults on our credit file do we realise we have been victims of identity theft.
11. Report any incident of identity theft, no matter how small, or even if you have been reimbursed for the damage – to the Police. The more of us that report identity theft, the more effective will be our Government and Police response to it.
Image: Chris Sharp/ www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net