Learn about identity theft to protect yourself from this fast-growing and devastating crime.
Identity theft is a crime wherein a criminal steals a person’s identity without his/her knowledge or permission. A major reason why criminals steal identities is to get access to credit which can then be used to make purchases. Having your identity stolen can be traumatic because you can end up with a pile of debts if the issue is not resolved effectively.
Australians are exposing themselves to identity thieves on a daily basis. It is important to take precautions as soon as possible to avoid becoming a victim. The effects of identity theft have long-term consequences emotionally and financially. In this article, we’ll outline the common forms of identity theft and provide tips on how to protect yourself from this crime.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
Common forms of identity theft
Identity theft can range from getting your credit card number stolen to getting your entire identity taken over by someone else. Some of the common documents they use to assume your identity include credit cards, utility bills and your driver’s licence.
There are many ways for criminals to steal your identity. Some of the more common ones include:
- Rubbish sifting – if you think nothing of throwing away bank statements and bills in the bin, you’d better change. This is because an increasing number of scammers actually go through people’s rubbish to retrieve important documents and paperwork. Make it a point to shred or tear all papers that contain personal information.
- Theft – if mail you’ve been waiting for never arrives, it’s possible that someone has gone through your mailbox to steal incoming mails. Theft can also come in the form of stealing wallets and handbags for the purpose of getting your ID.
- Phishing scams – this is one of the most popular ways to steal identities online. Scammers go through intricate ruses to imitate legitimate companies. For example, you might receive an email or text message that looks like it came from the government or the bank. Phishing scams fool you into entering financial information such as your credit card details, bank accounts and username/passwords. The identity thieves would then use your details for their own purpose.
- Social networking – you may not realise the amount of information that is available about you on the internet. But for scammers, social networks are a goldmine. They can find out your birth date, names of your family members, where you live and where you work. This information comes in handy when they have to answer security questions about you.
- Other types of scams – identities can be stolen through malicious software that you didn’t know you downloaded. Meanwhile, it can also come in the form of job ads. Scammers may post job ads and ask you to provide sensitive financial information with the application.
How identity theft can impact your credit file
If you were a victim of identity theft, it is highly probable that your credit rating has been negatively affected by the theft. Credit rating agencies keep a record of all the loans that were applied for under your name and whether these were repaid or defaulted.
Identity theft victims may find that they no longer have a good credit rating. This can ruin your chances of being approved for loans or credit cards for many years. If you believe you were a victim of identity theft, it is important to ask for a copy of your credit file immediately. You will need to report that you were a victim of identity theft and ask that an alert be placed on your account.
What to do if you have been the victim of identity theft?
Immediately after you find out that your personal details have been used illegally, it is essential to report this breach to the police. Compile all relevant documents that can help with the police investigation. In addition, you need to do the following:
- Contact your credit card provider and bank to notify them of the theft
- Cancel all compromised credit cards and bank accounts
- Open accounts with new security details
- Contact the Credit Reporting Agency and ask them to place a fraud alert on your account
- Check the credit report for unauthorised purchases and changes
- Keep all paperwork evidence of the crime
The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the Western Australian Government give identity theft victims an Identity Crime Certificate. This will help you recover from the crime quickly because the certificate can be presented to government agencies and other organisations to support your claim.
How to avoid identity theft
There are some easy to ways to minimise your identity theft risks.
- Regularly check your credit file. A good way to know if someone is using your card to apply for new credit is to get a copy of your credit file. It’s free and allows you to see what applications using your name have been made.
- Use an antivirus program, firewall and spyware cleaner on your computer. These programs help eradicate the problem of malicious programs which may steal your bank account details. Always keep these programs up-to-date.
- Be careful with throwing out documents. Be sure to cut up any credit cards into tiny pieces, shred documents rather than cut them up and if you have a large number of documents to destroy use a professional service. This reduces a thief’s ability to find your details in the bin.
- Never give your account details or click the links in suspicious emails. If you’re not sure if an email is really from your bank or credit provider, carry out an internet search and find their number. Then call them and verify the email. In almost all cases a bank will never ask for your account numbers via email.
- Use identity protection services. Equifax offers a range of identity theft protection services. These can give you regular copies of your credit file, along with insurance protection if you are the victim of identity theft.
There’s no doubt that becoming a victim of identity theft can be traumatic. While it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of identity theft completely, you can minimise it by being careful about who and what you trust with your personal information.
Identities have become one of the most important assets a person can have in today’s world. Many people take their identities for granted, but the efforts of identity theft can be devastating. The effects can be emotionally, financially and mentally stressful.
Many victims find it hard to reestablish their reputation after the crime has been committed. Fortunately, it is possible to minimise your risk by taking precautions.