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Optus data breach: What is the risk of identity theft for you?


Identity theft is one of the biggest concerns raised by the Optus data breach. Here's how to stay protected.

Current and former Optus customers who had their passport, driver's licence or Medicare details stolen are most at risk of identity theft.

This is because criminals could use these details to apply for new credit cards, loans or other products in your name.

There is also a risk of other types of identity theft (and scams) for people who had their name, email address and other contact details stolen.

"Dealing with a stolen identity can be very challenging and it can happen to almost anyone," James Forbes, Equifax's general manager of consumer, told Finder.

Tip: You can get free monthly credit score and report updates plus credit alerts through the Finder app.

How big an issue is identity theft?

Around 0.8% of Australians experienced identity theft in 2020–2021 according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

This represents 154,300 people aged over 15 out of 2.1 million people who experienced some type of fraud during that time.

The data shows that card fraud is the most common issue, affecting 6.9% of Australians, followed by scams (3.8%).

But identity theft is still worth over $2 billion to the economy according to the Department of Home Affairs.

A woman talking on the phone with a serious expression on her face.

Identity theft affects about 0.8% of Australians each year according to ABS data. Image: Getty Images

What are some of the key signs of identity theft?

The details stolen in the Optus data breach could be sold on the dark web, so it's not easy to check without expert support.

That's one of the reasons Optus is offering the most affected customers a free 12-month subscription to Equifax Protect.

Forbes told Finder that the service will alert people to changes on their credit report.

"You will also receive identity monitoring and will be notified if your personal information has been compromised and is found on the dark web," he said.

Features of Equifax Protect for eligible Optus customers

  • Monthly credit reports and credit scores
  • Credit alerts when there are changes to your credit report
  • Dark web monitoring to flag risks for your identity
  • Identity theft insurance of up to $15,000 per year

"You're at a higher risk of being targeted by opportunistic scammers after a data breach, so it's important to be on the lookout," Forbes said.

"Avoid clicking on links, opening attachments or providing confidential information online unless you know the sender and are sure the request is legitimate."

Other signs of identity theft include the following:

  • Unfamiliar charges on your bank statement or credit card
  • Unfamiliar enquiries on your credit report
  • An unexpected drop in your credit score or declined credit applications
  • New credit cards or loans in your name
  • Calls from debt collectors or lenders you are unfamiliar with

Forbes said you should also watch out for unexpected loss of mobile phone service, which can be a sign your account has been accessed.

With so many of the signs related to your credit report, Forbes said the first step is to "obtain a copy of your credit report and look for unauthorised applications for credit".

How to check your credit report

You can get a free copy of your credit report and score each month through the Finder app.

The 3 credit reporting bureaus in Australia also offer you free copies every 3 months, which you can request online or over the phone:

A professional woman reviewing documents for someone.

If your details were compromised, checking your credit report is a simple step you can take to help stay protected. Image: Getty Images

What are authorities doing?

The situation with the Optus data breach is still unfolding, with new information coming out rapidly.

Minister for home affairs and cybersecurity Clare O'Neil announced on Monday that the government will engage in a "substantial reform task" over the coming weeks.

The minister alluded to tightening cybersecurity requirements for large telecommunications companies and also the potential introduction of fines for when those companies have a breach of this size.

Australian law enforcement agencies are working with the FBI to find the people responsible.

Keep an eye on your emails as your bank may be in touch with news on the steps it is taking.

In the meantime, you can:

  • Secure your bank accounts. Update your passwords and turn on extra security features like multi-factor authentication.
  • Contact IDCARE. This national identity and cyber security service is working with Optus to help people affected by the attack. For support, fill in an online help form or call 1800 595 160.

What to do if you find signs of identity theft

  1. Contact the organisations involved so they can help you resolve it (e.g. credit providers you haven't submitted applications to).
  2. Request a ban on your consumer credit information by contacting Equifax, Experian and illion.
  3. Report the fraudulent activity or crime to the police.

"When dealing with a possible identity theft, it is important to keep records of the conversations you have and keep notes, including name/s of the individual, contact number, the date you spoke to an organisation and details of the conversation," Forbes said.

"You should also ask questions of the people you speak to so you can understand the process. Each credit provider will have its own processes for handling fraud. Note these requirements so you can comply."

Want to check your credit report now? Get it for free through the Finder app. You can also compare mobile plans on Finder if you want to make a change.

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