Media Release: Australians are warned to keep their letterbox locked and all personal information at home secure if they want to reduce their risk of identity fraud.

A national credit repairer says mail is a prime target for fraudsters, who can gather enough personal information from it to steal someone’s identity and ruin them financially for up to seven years.

“Crooks are working in gangs, grabbing mail from letterboxes and even rifling through rubbish bins to find our personal details. The information there can often be enough to request ‘replacement’ copies of identification. Once this is accomplished, they can open bank accounts, obtain credit and even mortgage properties in our name” says Graham Doessel, Director of MyCRA Credit Repairs.

Mr Doessel says identity theft can often hit twice, because if the fraud is not detected early, it can amount to defaults on people’s credit files which are difficult to just wipe away.

“First we have to prove we didn’t create the defaults – and that can sometimes be really tricky. But until the matter is resolved, we can be black listed from even simple things like getting an internet connection or mobile phone plan in our name,” he says.

This comes as NSW Police warn residents of inner-Sydney suburbs to lock their letterboxes after up to 1000 mail items were stolen from letterboxes in the area yesterday.

Detective Inspector Leanne McCusker says residents need to secure their letterbox the way they would a house.

“You need to be securing your house,” she said yesterday. “Your letterbox contains a lot of valuable property and your identification.” She also advises residents to know their neighbours and call police if they see someone not from the area acting suspiciously.

The Australian Crime Commission now sites identity theft as the fastest growing crime in the country, costing upwards of $1 billion to the Australian economy, and possibly affecting at least 500,000 Australians per year.

Mr Doessel recommends people put a few simple preventative measures in place to reduce their risk of identity fraud at home. “We should install a lock on our mailbox. We should buy a shredder and cross-shred every piece of personally identifiable information we no longer require before throwing it in the bin. We should also keep our personal documents locked away at home,” he says.

“As far as online security goes, we should keep our virus protection up to date on our computers; change passwords frequently; only use secure sites for credit card transactions and be extremely conservative with our social-networking settings,” he says. He also recommends people obtain a report on their credit file regularly.

“Often credit file discrepancies can be the first sign we have been victims of identity theft. We should obtain a free credit report to ensure that everything on our file is as it should be. That way if there are any problems, they can be rectified while there is no urgency” he says.

Under current legislation, Australians can check their credit file for free every 12 months from the major credit reporting agencies Veda Advantage, Dun and Bradstreet and Tasmanian Collection Service. A report is sent to the owner of the credit file within 10 working days. For those who are vulnerable to identity theft, they can pay extra with Veda Advantage to have their file on an ‘alert’ system, which tracks any changes to their credit file that may occur within a 12 month period.

He says identity theft victims should contact the Police immediately, although he says many of his clients don’t, due to embarrassment or because the fraud may not be a significant amount. “Our government may not have accurate statistics on identity theft numbers, just purely because we don’t report it often enough. But reporting to Police may be an essential step when trying to clear defaults if our credit file has been affected,” he says. He says if people find their credit file has been tarnished, a credit repairer can usually give people the best chance of complete default removal following identity theft.

“Unfortunately in most cases, attempting to remove the default ourselves can do more damage than good by not understanding the process fully, almost like trying to defend ourselves in court. We might do OK, but we only get one shot at it and if we don’t get it 100% right, we will be unsuccessful. There is no appeal in most cases” he says. “Using a credit repairer usually gives people the best chance of getting defaults, writs and Judgments completely removed from their file if they contain errors, are unjust or just shouldn’t be there. Complete removal gives people back their right to obtain credit in the future,” he says. /ENDS

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