The crime of identity theft is growing at an alarming rate, with the ‘sharing’ concept of the internet allowing scammers to locate and access their victims with ease.
Identity fraud comes in several forms. The most common variants are:
- identity theft
- bank card (EFTPOS) fraud
- credit card fraud
What is identity fraud?
This involves using other people’s identity, without their knowledge or consent, to engage in fraudulent financial, criminal or other enterprises. Apart from the emotional turmoil it causes, there is usually serious financial loss involved. This can include ruining a clean credit rating and damaging a personal reputation, which can also restrict future employment and travel opportunities.
How does it happen?
A criminal can assume another identity by:
- accessing information provided over the internet;
- obtaining personal details (such as tax file numbers, bank account numbers, pay slips and loan information);
- accessing physical documents (such as utilities bills, expired passports and driving licences).
The impact of the internet
In our high-tech society, identity fraud is commonly accomplished via the internet. Some techniques you need to be aware of are:
- Phishing: This involves legitimate companies being impersonated over email so that you are encouraged to disclose your personal details. One common variant is that an email is sent requesting that you click on a link to “update” your passwords or credit card information. While these scams can appear very convincing, be aware that your financial institution is not permitted to contact you by email to request that you change or disclose such information.
- Trojans/spyware: These are malicious programs that are embedded in your computer system without your knowledge or consent. They transmit your personal and financial details as well as your full keystroke history to criminal syndicates that use this information to access your identity and empty your accounts.
- Fake charity websites: These often occur following a natural disaster and aim to prey on potential charity donors by impersonating legitimate organisations. In sophisticated scams the real logos and imagery of the target charity are used and the fake websites can look very similar to the real ones. It definitely pays to be careful when being kind!
How can I protect myself?
Here are just a few guidelines:
- Always take care online and make sure your computer has current protective software installed which updates daily.
- Don’t give away personal information to people or organisations you don’t know.
- Keep your personal documents safe and secure.
- Never put personal details such as your birth date and home address on social websites – in many cases that information is all that’s needed to confirm your identity over the phone.
Just as you wouldn’t leave your wallet holding all of your money, cards and driving licence unattended in a public place, the same goes for your virtual wallet. Keep your identity in a safe place.