Protect yourself from identity theft
Cybercrime and data breaches are increasing the risk of identity theft. Here's how to stay safe.
Identity theft is when somebody uses your personal information for their own benefit, without your permission. For example, stealing your credit card details, using your image and name to create a fake social media profile or applying for a loan in your name.
Identity theft can be stressful and hard to resolve. It can also have an impact on your credit score. But there are ways to stay protected – including keeping track of your credit report and score.
How many Australians are affected by identity theft?
Around 19% of Australians have experienced some form of identity crime in their lifetime, according to research from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) in 2021.
It also estimated that identity crime costs over $3 billion a year. And the average amount of money people spent dealing with identity theft issues was $2,832.
How can my identity be stolen?
Some of the most common ways identity theft happens include:
- Data breaches. The risk of identity theft is about 34% higher if your details are exposed in a data breach, according to a 2022 report from the AIC.
- Theft. Criminals can get access to plenty of your personal details by stealing your wallet, handbag, mobile phone and letters from your mailbox.
- Phishing scams. This is where criminals try to trick you into providing personal or financial details. Warning signs can include an unexpected text, email or phone call asking for personal details or payment for a bill you don't recognise.
- Social networking.. Some criminals use social media to gather key details about you, which they may then use to create fake accounts and trick other people.
- Malicious software. Scammers set up fake websites and other services that trick you into downloading malware. This allows them to track what your doing, access files or even take control of your devices. Ransomware is another type of malicious software that demands payment for you to access your devices – and captures the payment details.
How can identity theft affect my credit report?
If someone has access to your financial or personal details, they can damage your credit report and score in a few ways.
For example, they could apply for new loans, credit cards, mobile plans or buy now pay later accounts in your name. And if they have details for your existing credit cards or other accounts, they could use them for fraud or transfer the money.
This activity can lead to new details being added to your credit report, which includes:
- Credit applications for the last 5 years
- Information about current and past credit accounts in your name
- Late payments and defaults
These details also factor into your credit score. So if they change because of a criminal using your details, it could have an impact on your chance of approval for new credit accounts. Checking your credit report regularly helps reduce the risk of this happening.
How can I protect myself from identity theft?
There are several simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Secure your personal documents at home. If you're throwing any documents away, make sure to shred them first.
- Secure your mailbox with a lock and remember to redirect your mail if you move.
- Check your credit file and credit score regularly.
- Inspect your credit card bills and bank statements for any suspicious activity. If you receive new credit cards you didn't ask for or bills for goods and services that aren't yours, investigate why.
- Be cautious when using social media and limit the amount of personal information you publish online.
- Select passwords for your online accounts carefully. Also, use security software on your computer and mobile phone.
- Never use unsecured Internet access points, such as public Wi-Fi connections or public computers, to access your bank account.
- Treat any request for your personal information over the Internet, phone and in-person with caution.
- Don't conduct any transactions on unsecured websites. Make sure a website is legitimate before handing over any details.
What should I do if I suspect identity theft?
- Get free help through IDCARE. Call 1800 595 160 or submit a contact form on the IDCARE website. You'll be put in contact with a specialist identity and cyber security case manager.
- Contact your financial institution. Call your bank immediately and inform them that someone has access to your account or credit card. The bank will usually cancel all affected credit cards and close any suspicious accounts opened in your name.
- Place a temporary ban on your credit report. This is a free service offered by the three credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax and illion (formerly Dun & Bradstreet).
- File a police report. This will allow investigations on the fraud to begin and give you access to a police report that you can give to financial institutions to avoid a bad credit rating. The police will also ensure that relevant government agencies are involved in the case if your documents were stolen, for example, your passport, Medicare card or birth certificate.
- Get a copy of your credit report. This will allow you to contact credit report agencies and inform them of the identity theft so that they can help repair your credit standings by adding notes to your credit file.
Other steps you can take
- 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 can request a Victim's Certificate. This certificate helps support your claim that you have been the victim of Commonwealth identity crime, which can help when you're resolving issues with businesses, government agencies, credit-reporting bodies or other organisations.
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