Identity crime is one of the most common crime types in Australia. Recent report Trends in Identity Crime indicated up to almost 1 million Australians were affected by identity crimes.
Your personal identity is a priceless resource. Protect it.
Personal identity as a commodity
With the ease and speed of transfer of information through many technology platforms, your most valuable asset – your personal identity – can be stolen swiftly, affecting you beyond draining your bank accounts.
In criminal circles, your personal identity is a highly sought after resource. With your personal details in hand, criminals can discreetly:
- redirect mail such as credit card and bank account statements, while enjoying a spending spree courtesy of your savings and growing debt
- skim a dollar or two regularly from your and many other people’s savings and credit accounts
- destroy your credit history for their financial gain
- commit work related fraud, in your name
- rent premises, affecting your ability to secure a tenancy later
- claim tax and Government benefits fraudulently
- import and export illegal parcels, in your name
- travel around the globe
- lead a bustling criminal lifestyle, even nurture a family and set up illegal ventures, using your name
- increase your credit limits to the maximum, apply for more credit, and spend it all at the expense of your finances and credit history.
Personal identity information and documents that need protection
Information about you that is of most value in the wrong hands includes:
- your name (a middle initial, middle name and / or your maiden name is a bonus for a fraudster)
- your physical address
- your date of birth, and where you were born
- your tax file number
- social security numbers
- social media profiles.
Documents relating to you or family members that are of most value in the wrong hands includes:
- passports (current or expired up to 2 years prior)
- citizenship certificates
- birth, marriage or death certificates
- drivers licence
- Medicare card
- Government issued concession cards
- account statements such as utility bills and finance and investment related statements
- credit and debit cards
- council rates, title deeds, or tenancy agreements.
Any one, or combination of these, could provide a criminal with enough proof of identity to obtain financial credit, a passport or registration of a business entity; or to change your personal details, for their gain.
Protect your personal identity
There are steps that you can take to keep your identity safer. We have provided a list of useful resources and tips from expert sources at the end of this blog article. Here are some of our top tips to keep your identity safe.
Protecting hardcopy personal documents
- Never put documents containing personal identifiers in any bin, without destroying them beyond recognition.
- Lock your mailbox, or get a secure post office box.
- Regularly review account statements for discrepancies.
- Organise certified copies of important personal identity documents and store in a security deposit box, or in a secure place in a lockable, fireproof and waterproof container.
- If an invoice or account statement is missing, investigate. Contact Australia Post to check there your mail is not being redirected without your knowledge.
- Keep all files in secure, locked storage.
- Check with a Credit Reporting Body (CRB) at least annually to confirm your credit status is as you would expect it to be. An example of a CRB is Veda – http://www.mycreditfile.com.au/home/free-credit-file.dot.
Protecting your personal identity online
- Have an up to date security software package automatically running and updating on your computer or laptop, including virus, malware and spyware protection and a firewall.
- If you have a social media profile, lock down security and privacy settings.
- Limit the personal details on your social media profile. While it feels great to have birthday wishes flowing in, it isn’t safe to publicise your date of birth online. Where location is requested, keep it broad – for example Australia, rather than Caulfield, Vic. You need to balance this, as the demographics of your profile will affect the type of information and advertisements ‘served’ to you.
- Use a phantom date of birth when you subscribe or register online and a date of birth is a compulsory field, but not legally required. For example use 01/01/ followed by your year of birth to keep your age demographic intact, but your identity safe.
- Use strong passwords. Passwords at least 8 characters long and a mix of numbers, letters, symbols and case, are usually verified as ‘strong’.
- Once you’ve finished any online activity – particularly financial transactions – log off immediately.
- Never send credit card details by email or over the phone. Use a secure site for payments. Using gateways such as PayPal or BPay gives you, as a consumer, an added layer of protection.
- If you receive an email about an outstanding payment, go to the official website – not via the email link – to check your account before paying.
- When making a payment through a secure online site, always untick any box that suggests ‘keep these payment details on file’.
- Set up a separate email address, and credit card with a minimal credit limit, for online shopping.