27 April 2012
A consumer advocate for accurate credit reporting is warning consumers ahead of Privacy Awareness Week (PAW) about the dangers for their credit file if they fell victim to identity theft through lax social networking settings.
Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs and Partner for PAW says identity theft threats from people posting too much personal information on sites like Facebook and Twitter are rampant.
“Fraudsters are out there looking for your personal information. They are building a profile, and one day if they have enough information you may be unfortunate enough to have credit taken out in your name. If this happens you could not only lose a lot of money, but your credit file is likely to be riddled with negative listings you have no knowledge of,” he says.
Privacy Awareness Week runs from 29th April to 5th May. The theme of the week is “How to Protect Personal Information While Engaging with Social Media”. MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs is proud to be a Partner to this event. (1)
Mr Doessel explains 5 important things to know about Social Networking to protect your good credit rating:
1. Fraudsters are looking for your personal information.
Identity theft victims are not always ‘gullible’. Identity theft attempts occur every day. Many experts say it is not a matter of if you experience an identity theft attempt, but when. It is estimated one in six Australians may have been a victim or know someone who is a victim of identity theft. (2)
Increasingly the crime originates from professional fraudsters whose main occupation is to steal personal information and financial details in order to commit fraud. The internet is a big source of personal information and it means identity crime can have very long arms – often it originates from overseas crime syndicates who are scouting for information on sites like Facebook.
Identity theft is increasing because the pay-offs are huge for criminals. It is estimated identity crime costs Australians $1 billion a year. (3)
2. They are looking for information that they can build an identity on.
Much of the information people post on Facebook or other Social Networking sites can be very good building blocks for identity thieves. They are taking snippets here and there and building a profile on people.
They may know your name and they may also know where you live, where you went to school, your pet’s names, your birthday, even your other family name which could be identified as your mother’s maiden name. With features like ‘check-in’s’, they also know where you are most of the time, which could also come in handy for criminals – especially if they already know where you live.
All this information crooks extract from Social Network sites may be used in passwords or used as identifying information. After a little while, they could have enough information to go about asking for replacement copies of driver’s licences, photo identification – whatever type of identification they have suitable information for.
Then fraudsters can attempt to apply for credit in your name. Some people have even had houses purchased in their name. Often the fraud can go undetected until you apply for credit in your own right and you are refused because a credit check reveals a long list of strange default listings.
3. Criminals don’t care how old the user is.
Even teenagers are not immune to having their personal information stolen. Data on young people may be ‘warehoused’ until the victim turns 18. There are reports of crooks scrolling through thousands of social networking pages purposely looking for young people for this reason, because they usually have the most open privacy settings. That information is not used right away, but is stored until the young people turn 18. They can then go on a ‘spending spree’ with the young person’s fake identity and credit.
Superintendant Brian Hay from the Queensland Fraud Squad told Channel 7’s Sunrise Program in October last year, that criminals were targeting the personal information of our young Facebook users. (4)
“We know that the crooks have been data warehousing identity information, we know that they’ve been building search engines to profile and build identities,” he told Sunrise.
“We need to tell our children if you surrender your soul, if you surrender your identity to the internet it could come back to bite you in a very savage way years down the track,” he says.
4. If criminals take out credit in your name, they won’t be so kind as to make repayments for you.
When credit goes unpaid past 60 days, the creditor issues a ‘default’ or ‘clearout’ listing on your credit file. This listing will remain on your credit file as record for 5 years for a default and 7 years for a clearout.
Any negative listing can mean people are refused a home loan, a car loan or any type of credit and it doesn’t have to big amounts to make a big impact. Even listings with amounts of $300 can stop someone from getting a loan. So even if there was only one instance of identity theft, your credit rating is ruined for up to seven years.
Unfortunately there is a hard road in recovering your good name. If the listing shouldn’t be there – it is still up to you as the consumer to prove you didn’t initiate the credit and this can be difficult – often people have no idea how someone got their personal information in the first place.
5. Bump up your privacy NOW on Social Networking sites to make sure no one obtains your personal information.
One important change you can make right now, is to change the way you use the internet. Keep your passwords and social networking settings as strong as possible. Here is some information that the Government has issued via their Stay Smart Online website to help people take steps to use social networking safely (5) :
· Always type your social networking website address into your browser.
· Never use the same password that you use for your bank or email accounts. Have a different password for each social networking site so that if one password is stolen, not all of your accounts will be at risk.
· Don’t automatically click on links in ‘friend request’ emails you receive. Genuine friend requests will appear on your home page on your social networking site.
· Be careful about how much personal information you post online. Use privacy settings to control who has access to your information.
· Be careful about the amount of information that you reveal to people you don’t know. It is easy to create a fake profile online and people are not always who they say they are.
· Stop and think before you write a message or post pictures. Ask yourself if the information you are sharing is something you want your future employers, friends or family to see. Even items you delete can remain on the Internet for years.
If people find out their credit rating has been damaged through identity theft, Mr Doessel says the first step is to contact Police, and the second step is to ask Police if they are eligible for a Victims of Commonwealth Identity Crime Certificate – which is available from their local Magistrate’s Court. (6)
“Identity theft recovery can be a lot of work – but if people have their credit rating damaged it’s a point worth fighting for. If people have neither the time nor the skill to prepare their own case for listing removal, they can always contact a reputable credit rating repairer to help,” he says.
Graham Doessel – Founder and CEO MyCRA (07) 3124 7133
MyCRA Credit Rating Repairs is Australia’s leader in credit rating repairs. We permanently remove defaults from credit files.
(3) OECD Committee on Consumer Policy, Online Identity Theft, February 2009, p. 37
(5) http://www.staysmartonline.gov.au/home_internet_users/protect_yourself2/safe_social_networking (6) http://www.ag.gov.au/www/agd/agd.nsf/Page/Crimeprevention_CertificatesforVictimsofCommonwealthIdentityCrime?open&query=victims