What Is Identity Theft?

What is identity theft?

Identity theft happens when your personal information is stolen by strangers and used to commit crimes for financial gain.

Equifax is one of three national credit reporting bodies (CRBs) that operate in Australia. We can help you find out how secure your identity information is and help you take further measures to guard it.
When identity theft occurs, you will often see unusual activity relating to your financial accounts. The thieves may, for example, open new credit card accounts in your name, apply for loans and financing, and neglect to pay any of the debts they incur because it’s in your name.

This means that this can negatively impact your credit score rating and leave you with a bad credit score.
In bad cases of identity fraud, bank accounts may end up drained, and crimes can even be committed and attributed to you – even if you were never involved.
That’s why it’s crucial to take measures to prevent your identity details from being stolen in the first instance and to act quickly if you notice suspicious activity.

How does identity theft occur?

When someone steals your personal information, including – but not limited to – your name, tax file number, driver's license number, address, Medicare details, or date of birth, it is called identity theft.
With the widely available nature of personal information these days, ID theft can occur in a number of ways. Before the internet, identity theft usually happened when someone stole your mail, purse, or wallet.

Scamming in person or over the phone to obtain your personal information was also prominent. These days it can happen without the thieves ever interacting with you, especially when it happens online.
We still need to take care of our mail, be wary of phone scams and personal ID documents when we’re out and about, and report identity theft as soon as we spot unusual activity. Be aware that identity theft can occur in any of the following scenarios:
●      Data is accessed when you use unsecured computers, websites, and public Wi-Fi, like at the library or while doing some banking or while you’re connected to a cafe’s Wi-Fi;
●      Online payments are made and details are sent to unverified third-party sellers;
●      Email scams like phishing emails and spoofing websites designed to steal your personal details;
●      A privacy breach occurs at an organisation that stores your personal information, as when it is hacked or it suffers any other type of information leak;
●      ATMs and EFTPOS terminals are hacked to skim your credit or debit card’s magnetic strip to access data connected to your personal banking information;
●      Malware infects your computers;
●      Unshredded personal documents in commercial or household rubbish is improperly accessed.

How to prevent identity theft?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent identity theft from happening to you:

  • Passwords are secure. Ensure that your passwords are long and contain a combination of numbers, symbols, capital letters, and lowercase letters.
  • Smartphone passcode. In the event your phone is stolen or left unattended, a passcode or facial recognition control can deter strangers from accessing your personal information quickly.
  • Security software on your computer. To prevent hackers from gaining access to your information and committing identity theft, install virus protection software. If you click on suspicious links or visit fake websites, this software can assist in protecting you.
  • Public computers and Wi-Fi networks. Before leaving a public computer, you should clear your internet history and log out. If you’re connected to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, avoid doing any banking or online transactions where you’re providing personal information.
  • Social media. Scammers can use posts on your social media to discover where you live or work, and places you frequent, which can help them locate you and impersonate you with relative ease.
  • Monitor bank accounts and statements. Check your credit accounts, bank statements and online accounts for unauthorised transactions. When you observe something unusual, you should contact your account provider immediately.
  • Secure mail and mailbox. Make sure your mailbox is locked to prevent mail from being stolen. Regularly check your mail, and if you’re planning to go away for even a few days, arrange for your mail to be collected by a friend, trusted neighbour, or ask the Post Office to hold it until you return.
  • Shredding documents. Identity theft can happen when letters you receive from your bank, super fund, or employer are discarded without being shredded.
  • Scams. Scams include someone calling you impersonating your bank, making fraudulent claims, and asking you for your personal details. They can also be phishing emails that might look professional that have the objective of getting you to provide the scammers with your personal information. A rule of thumb here is to never open or give up personal information to anyone you don’t know or can’t verify. That is fundamental in identity theft prevention.

In the event that you do spot unusual information or suspect you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, call the police. If you do call the police, you should also ask for a formal police report or reference number so you have evidence if you need to refer to it in the future. You should also contact the organisation or agency that issued your identity document and your financial institution and tell them what happened.

You can also report cybercrime securely to the Australian Cyber Security Centre or call their security hotline at 1300 292 371.
If you’re asking yourself ‘how to check if someone is using my identity Australia?’ subscribe to an Equifax credit report bundle to learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Therefore, you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your circumstance before acting on it, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a finance professional such as an adviser.