05.Restoring your good name
A UK government report found that clearing your name after an identity theft can take months of work –- you could need to spend close to 50 hours. Where a total ‘identity hijack’ has occurred, involving 20 to 30 organisations, the victim could need to spend over 200 hours and ₤8000 (over $16,000) before things are back to normal. In Australia, there’s no single place you can go — you’ll need to devote a lot of time to fixing the problem.
- Contact your bank and other financial institutions. You may need to change passwords and PINs, stop payment on lost and stolen cheques, and even close your accounts.
- Report the identity theft to the police.
- Notify credit reporting agencies (see Useful contacts), put a fraud alert on your credit file and check the file is accurate.
- Contact agencies such as your local post office (to ask whether mail has been diverted), Centrelink and the Australian Passport Office.
Taking these steps won’t guarantee your problems are over — once your details are stolen, you’ve no way of knowing whose hands they’re in, or how they’re being used. The Privacy Commissioner says, “With a piece of jewellery, the thief may try to sell the item. End of story.
With a stolen identity, the consequences can be far less obvious, with the thief using the information to perpetuate further crimes, sometimes over months or years. The virtual footprints one leaves are often difficult to erase and it is impossible to know who will have access to your information down the track.”
How to protect your ID
According to a survey by Veda Advantage (one of the Australian companies that holds consumers’ credit records), most people don’t take the necessary steps to protect their identity from theft, even after they’ve been victims. We could probably fill a magazine with the tips for protecting your identity, but briefly, here are some important ones:
- Practise safe computing.
- Check your credit file regularly. It’s free if you’re prepared to wait ten days; there’s a fee if you’re in a hurry.
- Safeguard documents — make sure your postbox is locked, and shred bank statements and letters.
- Make sure your credit card and bank statements are received, and check they’re correct.
- Report problems to the authorities.
For more information, check out the government’s ID theft toolkit on Attorney-General Department's website (type ‘identity fraud’ in the search box).