What is credit identity theft, and more importantly, how do you keep your identity secure?
Developments in technology have made it easier for us to access financial products and services, but this same technology has made it easier for thieves to get a hold of our information. Thieves can gain access to your information or trick you into giving it up, and then get you into debt by spending money or applying for credit in your name. Luckily, you can keep track of your credit activity to quickly identify and deal with any fraudulent activity.
Read our guide below on credit identity theft, how to protect yourself, and what to do if it happens to you.
What is credit identity theft?
Credit identity theft is when someone steals your personal and financial information and use this for their financial gain. The information can be regarding your personal identity, such as your name or date of birth, or it could be in relation to your financial accounts or products.
Credit identity theft can occur in a few ways. The thief may obtain some information about yourself, such as your name or what bank you are with, to get in contact with you and ask you to validate information. You may receive a phone call, email or message out of the blue asking you to validate or confirm your account information, and thieves can also get information from your computer by tracking your keystrokes to obtain passwords or account details.
There is no shortage of ways that thieves gain access to your information, which is why it’s important to be careful with any details relating to your personal identity or finances.
What information is on my credit file?
Your credit file contains information that can help a lender determine your level of risk as a borrower. Following reforms in March 2014, lenders can now see a more comprehensive record of your finances. On your credit file, there are three categories of data: your personal information, public information, and credit history information.
- Personal information: This includes your name, date of birth, gender, current or last known address, driver’s license number, and current or last employer.
- Public information: Information regarding any bankruptcies, court judgements, writs and summons from credit providers, directorship details, proprietorship details, and a credit provider’s option if you do not intend to comply with repayments or cases of fraud.
- Credit history information: This includes information if you applied for a credit account, what type of credit you applied for and when this account was opened and closed, the current and past limits of those accounts, and any conditions relating to repayments. Your file also includes your repayment history over the last two years, default agreements, any overdue accounts and information regarding commercial credit.
This information is quite detailed and has the aim of helping lenders make more responsible lending decisions.
How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
There are a few ways you might be able to tell if your identity has been stolen. If any of the following is happening, you might want to order a copy of your credit report or start contacting your providers to check for fraudulent activity on your accounts:
- Your credit cards, your wallet, or important documents such as your passport or driver’s license have been lost or stolen.
- The mail you are expecting has not arrived yet, or you are receiving no post at all.
- Items appear on your credit card statements or bank statements which you don’t remember or don’t recognise.
- You apply for a government benefit but was informed that you are already claiming.
- You receive receipts, bills or invoices for transactions or purchases that you haven’t made.
- You have been refused a financial product or service even if you have good credit history.
- You receive letters or summons from debt collectors or solicitors for debts that aren’t yours.
How do I protect myself from credit identity theft?
To protect yourself from identity theft you have to be vigilant about protecting your personal and financial information. Your credit file holds most of the information that thieves are after, and so by tracking it you can monitor your financial activity. One of the ways to keep tabs on your credit file is to sign up for alerts from some of the credit reporting agencies that you are able to obtain a copy of your credit file through.
For example, Equifax Alerts will send you an email within 24 hours of key information being changed on your credit file. This includes changes to your personal information, new credit enquiries, or details of bankruptcies or defaults. This can help you track your own activity as well as any fraudulent activity that takes place on your file.
This is, of course, not the only way you should be keeping your information safe. You should be smart about your information and keep your personal and financial details secure. Know where you store all of your information and make sure nobody else can access it, and don’t trust anyone who asks for your information or payment out of the blue.
Sign up to Equifax Alerts
How to order a copy of your credit file
You can receive email alerts when changes are made to your credit file. You'll also receive a fast-tracked credit report containing
- Consumer credit enquiry details
- Credit accounts you hold
- Any enquiries made on your credit file
- Details of any writs, summons or court judgements
- $79.95 p.a. annual fee
What do I do if I have become a victim of identity theft?
If you believe you have had your identity or parts of your personal information stolen, then it’s important to act quickly. Follow these steps if you think you have been targeted:
- Call the police. Any incident or suspected incident of identity theft should be reported to your local police. Ask the police for a copy of their report or a crime reference numbers for any financial institutions or government agencies who may ask for it.
- Tell your bank. Contact all of your banking and financial institutions so they can put a hold on all cards and accounts, and they can also check if any of these accounts have been breached.
- Place an initial fraud alert. This is a free service offered by the three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet and Tasmanian Collection Service. This alert will stay on your report for 90 days.
- Order your credit report. Order a free copy of your report from one of the three credit reporting agencies, or pay a fee to have the report delivered to you more quickly. You should go through your report to identify any fraudulent accounts that have been applied for or opened in your name, and then take actions to have those accounts closed.
- Check your details. You should then get in contact with Australia Post and other government agencies or businesses to check that your mail hasn’t been redirected or your address or personal details changed.
Optional additional steps
- There are further steps you can take if you feel that the above did not help rectify your situation, or you find that the steps you took were not recognised by certain businesses or agencies.
- If you feel that your privacy has been breached, you can contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and lodge a complaint. Before contacting the commissioner, you should try to resolve matters with the agency or organisation concerned.
- If you are a victim of a Commonwealth identity crime and the theft is causing problems in your personal life or with your business, you may choose to get a Victim’s Certificate. This certificate is provided by a State or Territory magistrate, and you can present it to agencies or businesses to help support your claim that you have been a victim of a Commonwealth identity crime.
The most important way to avoid having your identity stolen is to be smart with your information. Make use of the resources at your disposal to secure and keep track of your personal and financial details to ensure they aren’t used by someone else.