How to avoid identity theft

Identity theft is a relatively rare crime — but you still need to be vigilant.
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  • Updated:18 Sep 2007

01 .Identity theft

hand in front of a computer screen

Identity theft is a crime where your personal details are used by another person to commit fraud or access your money. It can range from somebody using your credit card to make purchases over the internet to the complete takeover of your identity.

It can occur when somebody steals your personal identification number (PIN) to access bank account or other financial details. Your bank statements or other documents can also be stolen and personal details used without your consent.

It can even happen if your wallet or bag is lost or stolen and somebody gains access to your personal information. Your identity can also be stolen if a bank or financial institution is hacked and somebody gains access to customer details.

In Australia, complete identity takeover is relatively rare, but instances of identity theft do occur. You don’t need to be alarmed, but you should be aware of the risks and how to secure personal details. And you need to know what security measures businesses and financial institutions that hold your personal information use.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

If you think your identity has been stolen

There are several steps to take immediately if you suspect that your identity has been stolen. You must act quickly to limit the spread of your personal information and stop your bank accounts and credit cards from being compromised.

The first step is to contact your bank and other financial institutions to advise them that there are transactions on your accounts that aren’t yours.

You may need to:

  • stop payment of lost or stolen cheques
  • change passwords and PINs
  • consider closing accounts.

The next step is to report the identity theft to your state or territory police office to record the crime. You may also have to be photographed and fingerprinted to record your identity.

You then need to notify a credit reporting agency that your identity may have been compromised and to place a note in your credit file.

You may also want to:

  • Request a copy of your credit file to check for unauthorised entries or changes to your personal details or other information (see More information).
  • If there are any unauthorised entries, you’ll need to contact the relevant companies to investigate the matter.
  • Request a report in a few months time to ensure there are no new unauthorised entries.

The final step is to contact your local post office and determine whether mail has been diverted. You might also want to contact government agencies, such as Centrelink and the Australian Passport Office, to report the identity theft.

And remember, it’s important to document all your phone calls and note the date, time, contact person, telephone number and advice received.

Stay safe online and offline

  • Only give necessary personal information to businesses.
  • Ensure your security software is up-to-date.
  • Use complex passwords and change them regularly.
  • Only buy from secure websites that display a padlock symbol or use https (rather than just http) in the website address.
  • Destroy personal information, such as bills and account statements. Lock your letterbox to avoid mail theft.
  • Sign all debit and credit cards as soon as you receive them.
  • Photocopy or list all your account numbers and emergency contact details.
  • Store personal information securely.
  • If you move house, tell the bank and other organisations immediately.
  • Use mail re-direction services.

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Request your credit file

Credit reference agencies should provide you with a free credit report within about 10 days, although some charge for an express service. Check your credit file and ask for any mistakes to be corrected and notify other companies if you want to investigate or dispute any transactions.

You’ll need to provide your full name, date of birth, driver’s licence, current and previous addresses, phone number, as well as current and previous employers.

Credit reference agencies:

Policy point

  • We would like to see business take more action to protect customers’ sensitive personal information.
  • Privacy laws need to be amended to make business more responsible for protecting personal details.
  • Consumers should be compensated for loss in relation to identity theft.

How business can protect your details

  • Require two-factor authentication for secure websites to limit potential fraud.
  • Provide a secure site for transactions.
  • Only require necessary personal information.
  • Publish information about scams on company websites.
  • Ensure personal information is secure and access is controlled.
  • Train staff in proper handling procedures for personal information.
  • Regularly check which staff can access customers’ personal information.
  • Review disposal procedures to ensure that personal information is unreadable before it’s thrown out.

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