Identity crime in Australia costs an estimated $1.6 billion each year.1 But the damage can be much more than financial – it can be far reaching and may drag on for years.
Your identity is one of your most private and precious possessions – but it can be easier to steal than you might think. If a cyber-criminal manages to get hold of your personal information, they could use it to make multiple loan or credit card applications in your name – accessing your money, building up debts you don’t know about and putting your credit rating at risk.
Many victims discover the hardest part of the ordeal is then proving they didn’t make the loan applications in their name.
Identity theft can be emotionally and financially draining, so you need to understand what it is and how you can take steps to protect yourself.
What is it?
When a criminal uses your personal information (such as your name, date of birth or bank account details) to steal your money, open credit card accounts in your name or gain other benefits, that’s identity theft.
How can criminals steal my identity?
Identify theft usually happens through one of two ways.
1. Criminals access your personal information online. They can do this through phishing scams, data breaches, stealing data from your social media profile or hacking into other online accounts.
2. You lose, or criminals steal your personal documents. Thieves steal your personal documents from your mail, rubbish or by breaking into your house. Criminals can also get their hands on your information through lost wallets or handbags.
How do I protect myself?
Identity theft is a serious crime, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Create strong passwords
Make sure you have different passwords for every device and account. They need to be strong and changed regularly.
A strong password has a combination of random upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and have no personal connection to you.
For example, Tr0ub4dor&3 is strong, while Password19# or Julie79$ are weak.
- Don’t open or click unless you’re sure
Don’t open unsolicited emails or text messages and don’t click on suspicious links until you are sure they are not a scam. Learn more about how to identify a phishing message.
- Be private on social media
Change your social media settings to private. Don’t share sensitive information such as your date of birth, address or phone number on your profile or in a comment on a public post, and don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
- Secure your personal documents and mail
Keep your important documents in a safe place, and if you’re throwing out documents with personal information, shred or destroy them first.
Make sure your mailbox can be locked and remove your mail daily. If you move house, let relevant organisations and government agencies know.
- Check your statements carefully
Carefully check your bank statements as soon as you receive them, and check your credit report once a year to catch any unusual activity.
- Dispose of your computer and devices securely
Delete all files and personal information from your computer, phone and other devices when you sell or dispose of them. Consider a ‘data destruction’ software for your computer, as deleted files can be recovered.
- Take data breaches seriously
Data breaches are far too common, but it doesn’t make them any less serious. With new laws in place since February 2018, eligible organisations are obliged to notify individuals whose personal information has been lost, stolen or subject to unauthorised access or disclosure (data breach).
If you receive a data breach notification from an organisation you should:
- Find out what information was stolen – your contact details, date of birth or account numbers, or passwords and/or credit card details
- Change passwords to affected accounts immediately
- Contact your financial institution(s) immediately and review your statements.
How do I know if my identity has been stolen?
There are a number of warning signs that could indicate you might be a victim of identity fraud.
- Items on your bank statement you don’t recall or recognise
- Invoices sent to you for products or services you didn’t order
- Your credit or loan application is declined, despite a good credit history
- Your credit score has dropped for no apparent reason
- You have been notified that your personal information was included in a data breach.
What do I do if I think my identity has been stolen?
Identity theft is a serious crime. If you suspect your identity has been stolen, report it immediately to your bank, your local police, and to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN).
You should also change your password on your accounts and close any unauthorised accounts in your name straight away.
For more information about protecting your identity, visit ID Care.
If you think your Pepper account has been compromised, contact us immediately by calling Customer Service on 13 73 77.
To learn about how Pepper protects your privacy click here.
This article provides you with factual information only, and is not intended to imply any recommendation about any financial product(s) or constitute tax advice. If you require financial or tax advice you should consult a licensed financial or tax adviser. Neither Pepper nor its related bodies, nor their directors, employees or agents accept any responsibility for loss or liability which may arise from accessing or reliance on any of the information contained in this article. For information about whether a Pepper loan may be suitable for you, call Pepper on 13 73 77.