Criminals want to steal your identity – an expert shares how to stop them
Here's how to beat cybercriminals at their own game.
In recent times, we have seen significant technological advancements that have made our lives easier, brought the world closer, allowed for more accessible travel and communication and created the ability for people to work and run businesses remotely from anywhere in the world.
However, these advances in technology have also created the perfect environment for cybercriminals who use such technologies to carry out their illicit activities and target victims from anywhere.
When a victim has been defrauded, it can take time and significant resources to investigate, track down and prosecute these criminals, so being proactive instead of reactive is always preferred.
Recent studies by Finder revealed that about 75% of Australians don't know their credit score. As the director of Argus Investigations, where we specialise in fraud and financial investigation and cyber-related crime, I found this alarming and quite concerning. Monitoring your credit score can be a critical factor in early fraud detection and protecting yourself from identity theft.
How does identity theft happen?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals and uses another person's identity or financial information without their consent. This can lead to significantly damaged credit ratings or status and loss of time and money.
Victims often don't know they have fallen victim to identity theft until long after the incident. To assist you in early detection and to allow for a quick response, look out for the following warning signs:
- Changes to credit status and credit report.
- Seeing information on your credit report for accounts that you did not open.
- Receiving bills for items or services you did not purchase.
- Being contacted by debt collectors regarding accounts you did not open.
- Failed loan applications.
- You stop receiving expected mail or mail is missing.
Now that you know the warning signs, there are certain things you can do to increase the likelihood of picking up on these signs.
Checking your credit report regularly can help protect you against identity theft.
One of the strategies you and your loved ones can implement to identify any suspicious activity is to apply for your credit score on the Finder app. This is free and easy to do.
Follow the 3 simple steps to get your credit score in minutes:
- Download the Finder app here. Enter your mobile number to receive a download link or scan the barcode.
- Use 2 points of ID to verify your account.
- Once verified, you can check your score and get updates on the first of every month.
Is your data at risk when checking your credit score?
This process is private and secure as Finder uses bank-level security and encryption and retrieves your credit score directly from Experian.
There is value in protecting your credit score too. A better score generally allows consumers to get better deals and value from credit and service providers, putting the power back into your hands instead of the banks'.
Once signed up, you'll receive free monthly updates of any changes to your credit score and credit file. This allows you to monitor any fraudulent activity or applications that may have been taken out in your name.
How often can I check my credit score and report?
You can do so as many times as you like. Your credit score will be updated each month or whenever there is a change to your file (if you've opted into Finder's credit file monitoring service).
What if you're a victim of identity theft?
If you notice any errors or suspicious activity or believe you have become a victim of identity theft, you should:
- Make a report with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) here.
- Report the matter to Experian, the credit reporting agency Finder uses.
- Contact the relevant company that you have identified on your credit report and advise them.
- If you have sustained significant financial losses and police have been unable to assist you, contact us at Argus Investigations.
Your report to the ACSC will be directly referred to the appropriate state or territory law enforcement agency.
Once you have reported the incident, it's essential to implement a recovery plan. The government's identity theft website is an excellent resource for you to get a free personal recovery plan. The site enables you to generate the letters and forms you may need such as:
- An identity theft report.
- Debt collector dispute letters.
- Credit card dispute letters.
What else can you do to protect yourself from identity theft?
Other than using the Finder app to monitor your credit report, it's also beneficial to do the following.
- Secure any identity and financial documents, cards and devices in a safe location.
- Consider using a digital wallet such as a phone or smartwatch to store cards and use them for payment.
- When discarding identity documents, use a cross-cut shredder.
- Use long (12+ characters) unique passwords to protect your online accounts.
- Don't use public Wi-Fi unless you have a virtual private network (VPN) and ensure your browser is secure.
- Implement biometric and password authentication on all your electronic devices.
- Ensure your social media profiles are set to private. Be diligent about what you post.
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) with an authenticator app wherever possible. Remember that SMS/MMS messages and phone calls with authorisation codes can be spoofed.
- Give your personal identification information through social media platforms, text or email, especially when you have not confirmed the requestor's authenticity and identity.
- Click on unexpected pop-ups in your browser or on your device.
- Click on any links in unknown emails, chat forums or social media posts. It's always safer to go straight to the source when verifying an email, text or social media post.
- Input personal information into websites that you can't confirm the authenticity of or where you're not sure what will be done with any of your information provided to third parties.
Why else is it important to protect your credit score?
With Finder's Chance of Approval feature, you can check your score to see which loans and credit cards you're eligible for. You can also access your entire credit file, which can help you stay on top of any errors or suspicious activity in your credit report.
Sign up to receive your free credit score and report from Finder and download the app today.
George Andreopoulos is a former detective sergeant with the NSW Police Force and served as an inspector with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Department of Home Affairs. Throughout his 18-year law enforcement career, he specialised in investigating transnational organised crime, human source management, financial crime, surveillance, covert investigations and intelligence operations. He is presently the director of Argus Investigations and collaborates with IFW Global through a strategic alliance targeting and investigating fraud syndicates worldwide.