Your personal information is valuable. Think of it like a puzzle: each piece alone may seem small, but when you join the pieces together it's enough for a criminal to steal your identity.
In this article we explore the steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft and what to do if you find yourself in a situation where your personal information has been misused or stolen.
What is identity theft?
According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), identity theft (also known as identity fraud or crime) involves someone using another individual's personal information without consent, often to obtain a benefit. This can have a devastating effect on your finances and credit rating.
Your personal information includes 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.
With the right information, someone else can pretend to be you and access your financial accounts, open a new bank account or credit card or even apply for a driver's licence.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
Be wary of emails or callers asking for your personal information
Whether it’s a text claiming to be from Australia Post asking you to enter your home address to receive your package or a call about a problem with your computer or internet (known as a remote access scam), the common objective is to obtain your personal information.
Some scams can be harder to detect than others so pay close attention to emails, texts and calls you receive claiming to be from organisations you know. Question what is being asked of you, and don’t be afraid to hang up on callers who put pressure on you to act. Stay up to date with the latest scams and advice from Scamwatch .
Set strong and unique passwords
Security experts recommend using a ‘pass phrase’ instead of 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 (e.g., Chrome and Edge). Find out how to create and remember strong passwords.
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 passwords, 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.
Keep your device secure and up to date
Your device should have a basic built-in antivirus system, however you can get extra protection by installing antivirus software. It constantly scans your device for viruses and other threats including websites you visit and email attachments. You can help by ensuring your devices are up to date with the latest version of software as these include the latest security upgrades. Find out more about antivirus and spam protection software.
Don't overshare on social media
It’s best to set your social accounts to private and review your privacy settings to control who can see what you share. Don’t post things, including pictures, that allow people to find you in real life, such as your home or work address, your date of birth, your telephone number or email address, and any financial details. .
Make secure payments online
There are many ways to pay for things online but your credit card and PayPal account are safest as they offer the most protection. Also, when buying things online, look out for the ‘https://’ and closed padlock in the website’s address bar before entering your payment details. And try to stick to online retailers you’re familiar with.
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.
Check your credit reports
Your credit report shows current loans, loan enquiries, and credit applications in your name. It's free to access every three months and a good way of checking whether someone has tried to obtain credit in your name. Find out how you can get a copy of your credit report .
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.
Take action after a data breach
If you are impacted by a data breach , take the recommended action from places like IDCARE and the OAIC, and stay extra vigilant against potential scams to mitigate the risk of falling victim to identity theft. Find out more about what to do if you have been impacted by a data breach.
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
There are a number of warning signs that may indicate your identity has been compromised, including:
- 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.
- Contact IDCARE, a free support service for people impacted by identity theft, to build a response plan. Visit the IDCARE website or call 1800 595 160.
- Report scams 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 report the matter to police via the Police Assistance Line: 131 444.