How to protect yourself against personal fraud

Sally McMullen 21 April 2016


Personal fraud is on the rise, so how can you protect your finances?

It turns out that our finances aren’t as safe as they once were. New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveal that 1.6 million Australians (or 8.5% of the population aged 15 and over) experienced personal fraud in 2014-15. This has jumped from 6.5% in 2010-11. Out of these incidences of fraud, card fraud was the most common with 1.1 million people being scammed. This isn’t a one time occurrence either, with 1 in 3 people (31%) of credit card fraud victims, reporting two or more incidents.

According to the Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA), there were 1.89 million fraudulent transactions in the 2014-15 financial year, worth more than $405.6 million. This is a spike of 24% from the 1.53 million fraudulent transactions which were worth just over $344 million in the previous financial year.

It’s hard to determine exactly what has caused the increase in fraudulent transactions, though the increase of digital and card transactions and the decline or cash and cheque payments could have something to do with it. A report released by the APCA this week shows electronic transactions have increased by 6.3% and card payments have risen by 11.1%. This is compared to 16.3% fewer cheques and 5.5% fewer ATM withdrawals in 2015 than 2014.

While these statistics are indeed worrying, there are some simple ways that you can protect your finances.

Monitor your credit card account

Looking through your bank statements can seem tedious, but doing it regularly could save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Most banks let you view your statement easily online or via an app, so you should have no trouble browsing through your transactions on your phone at the end of each week. If you notice a suspicious transaction (such as a purchase at a store you haven’t visited), contact your provider immediately. The sooner they start investigating, the sooner you can (hopefully) get your money back.

Check ATM machines

Before using an ATM machine, check for any extra mirrors or anything attached or sticking out from the card slot -- a criminal may have attached a card skimmer onto the machine. Also, always cover your PIN at the ATM or when using an EFTPOS machine. Even if no one is around, this is a safe habit to get into and an easy way to protect your finances.

Be wary when shopping online

Shopping online is an easy and, usually, a safe way to make purchases. There are many online stores, but not all of them are reliable. If you’re not sure, check the site’s "About us" page, their payment and shipping terms and conditions and see if any customers have left any feedback. If you use PayPal, Visa or MasterCard, your purchases could be covered by their various online fraud protection covers. However, if you suspect that the site may not be legitimate, consider making your purchase through another site. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Contact your bank immediately

Whether you’ve lost your card, suspect that your card has been subject to ATM skimming or that a fraudulent transaction has occurred online, contact your bank immediately. Before you call, make sure to have all of the details regarding the transaction (including the date, amount and location) ready and waiting. It’s important to do this as soon as possible, as it can take up to 40 days for banks to return funds to victims of fraudulent transactions. The sooner your bank starts the investigation, the sooner you’ll get your money.

Know your rights

Depending on your provider and the incident that has occurred, you should be covered by fraud protection services that will ensure that your stolen funds are returned to you. The process for notifying your bank, investigating the incident and what you’re covered by will vary from bank to bank. So it’s important to know your rights before you make the call to your bank so you can get the most out of the cover.

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