Identity theft is more common than you may think. In fact, an Australian Institute of Criminology 2019 survey found 1 in 4 respondents had experienced misuse of their personal information at some point in their lives. Identity theft can happen to anyone, which is why it’s important to know what to look out for and how to protect your personal information just like you would protect your money.
Your personal information is any data or information that can identify you, like your full name, address, driver’s licence number, date of birth, bank details, mother’s maiden name, usernames and passwords.
Think of it like a puzzle. Each piece alone is not worth much, but when you join all the pieces together, it’s enough for a criminal to steal your identity and wreak havoc.
In this guide we explain why it’s important to keep your personal information safe and we offer some tips on ways to protect yourself from identity theft, as well as where to go for help if you ever find yourself in a situation where your personal information has been misused or stolen.
Why is it important to keep your personal information safe?
Your personal information is valuable. In the wrong hands, it can be used to access your financial accounts or create fake identity documents. This is called identity theft and it can have a devastating effect on your finances and credit rating. With the right information, someone else can pretend to be you and can do things like apply for a credit card, loan, passport or driver’s licence – and even register a vehicle – all in your name.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
1. Be wary of emails or callers asking for your personal information
Banks and other large organisations will never send you a link asking you to enter your details. So be wary of emails asking you to verify your personal information, no matter how urgent or official they sound. Also, don’t provide your bank or credit card details or passwords to anybody who calls you unexpectedly, even if they say they want to ‘confirm’ the information is correct. For hints and tips on how to spot a scammer, read our Quick Reads article: Would you give your credit card to a stranger?
2. Set strong and unique passwords
Security experts recommend using a ‘pass phrase’ rather than a password to make it harder for others to guess. Create different passwords for your banking and other important accounts, and don’t save them in your web browser (Like Chrome and Edge). Find out how to create and remember strong passwords.
3. Use secure Wi-Fi networks to do your online banking
Avoid using public Wi-Fi to do your online banking or anything else that involves entering your credit card or banking details. Also, if you share a device with other people, for example at a library or internet café, do not save your passwords in the web browsers.
Review your privacy settings and be careful about the information you share with your network, like your address, date of birth and phone number. Read more about how you can adjust your privacy settings on Facebook.
6. Make secure payments online
Use your credit card or PayPal account to pay for things online. Also, look out for the ‘https://’ and closed padlock in the website’s address bar before entering your payment details. Try to stick to online retailers you’re familiar with too.
7. Check your bank and credit card statements
Make a habit of checking your statements and look out for any charges or withdrawals you didn’t make.
8. Shred sensitive documents and secure your mail
Lock your mailbox and shred sensitive documents that contain identifying personal details like bank statements, credit card bills, copies of your birth certificate, driver’s licence and passports.
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
You receive bills addressed to you from businesses you have no relationship with.
There are items on your bank or credit card statements that you don’t recognise.
Your loan or credit card application is rejected due to a poor credit rating even when you know you have a good track record.
Mail you have been waiting for does not arrive.
Where to go for help
Having your identity stolen can cause extreme emotional and financial stress, so be sure to reach out for help. There are steps you can take and people you can speak to if you think your identity has been stolen or your personal information has been misused.
Contact your bank immediately to block your account or report unauthorised transactions. You may need to also cancel your credit or debit cards and have them re-issued.
Change all your passwords online and remember to make them strong and unique. Change any PIN numbers too.
Contact IDCARE, a free support service for people impacted by identity theft. Visit the IDCARE website or call 1800 595 160.
Report identity theft to Scamwatch to help warn others in the community.
Find out if you’re eligible for a Commonwealth Victims’ Certificate. The certificate helps support your claim that you have been the victim of identity theft and it may help towards restoring your credit rating and credentials with banks and government services.
You can also contact the police via the Police Assistance Line: 131 444.