Protect yourself from ID fraud

Nearly half a million Australians were victims of identity fraud last year.
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01.ID fraud


In brief

  • ID fraud risks, particularly over the internet, are growing fast. 60% of people are worried they’ll be caught out.
  • There’s no way to completely protect your identity, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risks

It's estimated that there were 499,500 victims of identity fraud in Australia last year. There were 383,000 incidences of credit or bank card fraud, while 124,000 people had their identities stolen. Many don’t know how the criminals got their details or whether their names and personal information are still being used.

For fraudsters, internet identity theft provides high rewards at low risk, and this has proved attractive for organised crime, including syndicates from eastern Europe and Asia. Experts say the internet was designed perfectly for fraudsters, enabling identity theft on an industrial scale.

A thriving market for sensitive personal information allows criminals to trade credit card data through ‘carding’ sites that traffic this information around the world. The US Secret Service estimates that the current two largest carding sites are used by nearly 20,000 criminals.

‘Click-happy’ consumers opening email attachments, following links to fake websites and even visiting legitimate websites are unwittingly installing spyware and other malicious programs designed to steal their private details and pass them to criminals. The revenue generated by cyber-crime around the world is estimated to be higher than that of the illicit drug trade. Identity fraud in Australia is worth at least $1 billion annually.

A recent survey by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner found that 60% of people are worried about being a victim of ID theft. It can be a traumatic, expensive and time-consuming experience. Very little information is needed to steal your identity: your name, date of birth and address — hardly secret information — can get the ball rolling.

It’s not easy to restore your identity, once stolen, so prevention is better than cure. We tell you about 10 of the latest threats and what you can do to avoid them.

Please note: this information was current as of August 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Did you know?

The National Privacy Principles say governments and organisations must take reasonable steps to protect information they hold from misuse, loss, unauthorised access, modification and disclosure. Appropriate security requirements must be in place to ensure breaches don’t occur, and these organisations must be accountable when breaches do occur.

However, that accountability doesn’t extend to telling the individuals affected about the theft, or the authorities. The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) proposed a change to the Privacy Act whereby agencies and organisations would be required to notify individuals of any intended or unauthorised disclosure of their personal information. “This alerts individuals to the possibility that they may be at risk of identity theft and may assist them to prevent the theft of their personal information,” the ALRC paper says.”

The ALRC’s final report for the Privacy Inquiry is expected to be tabled in Parliament soon. By the time legal amendments are discussed, reviewed and redrafted, law reform can take years. In the meantime, the Privacy Commissioner has proposed an opt-in system, whereby signatory organisations voluntarily agree to notify individuals of such security thefts and breaches. Go to for details.



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