How to Pinpoint and Protect Yourself from Identity Fraud
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Fraud
Scammers can steal your personal details and carry out illegal activities in your name, and identity theft can be financially and emotionally devastating. Learn more about identity fraud and how you can protect yourself.
- What is identity fraud or identity theft
- How identity theft happens
- How to protect yourself from identity theft
- What to do if you have had your identity stolen
What is identity fraud or identity theft
Identity fraud involves the theft of your personal information, including your name, date of birth, address and other details. Fraudsters can use this information to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards, start an illegal business or apply for a passport. Your details may also be used to commit serious crimes, such as money laundering and even terrorist acts.
Identity thieves are after everything that contains your personal information: bank and credit card statements, social media account information, bills, driver's license, passport, investment reports, retirement information, storage devices, and any documents that contain your tax file number.
How identity theft happens
People can easily steal your identity, because your personal information can be found everywhere: on the cards in your wallet, bills in your letter box, emails on your computer at home and at work and on social networking sites. Fraudsters can look through your trash for bills and bank statements, steal your wallet or bag, break into your mailbox or home, or hack into your computer.
Identity thieves are also becoming more sophisticated. They may send you a letter, email, SMS or message through social media to phish for information or pretend to be calling on behalf of your bank or a government department to trick you into giving them information. They may install a program on your computer that allows them to spy on you and track your keystrokes every time you use your desktop computer or laptop.
If someone is pretending to be you, here are some telltale signs:
- You start receiving bills, credit cards, loan statements or calls from creditors you know nothing about.
- You have difficulty obtaining a credit card or a loan because of an inexplicably bad credit rating.
- The amount of mail you receive is decreasing, which may indicate that items are being stolen or your mail is being redirected somewhere else.
- If your social media account has been hacked, you may notice posts appearing that you did not write, someone has logged into your account from an unusual location, your wall is flooded with spam-like posts, and you are suddenly following a lot of new, unknown people.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
You can stop your identity from being stolen.
- Never give your personal details to people you don't know. If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from your bank or any other organization, don't give them your details. Call the organization yourself to check it is really them calling. Never click on a link or call a phone number listed in an email; check the phone book or their website to look up the correct number. Also, beware of entering competitions online where you enter your personal information, as this could be stored and used by a scammer.
- Check your bank statements. If you see any unusual transactions, contact your bank or credit card provider immediately.
- Review your credit report. Get your credit report from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. This allows you to check that no one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts. Check your credit report at least once a year.
- Carry only essential information. Avoid taking important documents out of your home to minimize the chance of them being lost or stolen.
- Secure personal documents at home. Store your important documents in a fire and waterproof container or a safe deposit box in case your home is burgled or damaged.
- Destroy personal information. Shred or cut up your bills, statements and expired cards to prevent thieves from using them.
- Secure your mail. Secure your mailbox with a lock and collect your mail regularly. When you move, notify the post office to redirect your mail. Mail sent to the wrong address could be used to steal your identity.
Computer and mobile protection
- Keep your phone or other mobile device safe. Treat it like a wallet and know where it is at all times. Always lock your device with a PIN or password.
- Be careful about what information you post and give on social media. Identity thieves scroll sites like Facebook, Twitter and other social media for personal details they can use. Always ensure your privacy settings are set to “friends only,” and don't accept friend requests from people you don't know.
- Always type the website address into your browser. Don't click on a link in an email or open emails requiring you to enter your personal information as they could be scams.
- Disable pop-ups on your browser. People can use pop-ups to install programs on your computer that spy on you or record your keystrokes. This is how they find out passwords to your bank and other accounts. Most internet browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari) let you block pop-ups by selecting “Turn on pop-up blocker” or a variation of this term under the Tools or Settings menu. You can also delete/remove certain types of ads from your social feed.
- Make your passwords hard to guess. Use a combination of numbers and letters and change your passwords frequently. Avoid using the same password for multiple sites.
- Install up-to-date anti-virus software. It will automatically prevent, detect and remove any suspicious programs from your computer or mobile device. Always scan devices such as USBs or external hard drives for viruses before opening them on your computer.
- Log out of social media, bank websites and email accounts. This is important if you bank online. If you don't log out, anyone can access your details.
- Only download apps from the official app store or market. Check to make sure the app is from a well-known company.
- Enable security settings on your mobile device. Turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS when not in use.
- Never use public computers for banking or payments. If you use a computer at a library to look up your bank account or do online shopping, your account details will be stored on the computer. You do not want your important online banking details to get into the hands of others.
What to do if you have had your identity stolen
If you think someone has stolen your identity and is committing crimes in your name, you should:
- Change your passwords on your email, social media accounts, online bank and computer/mobile device. In some cases, you will also need to change your email address and close your old account.
- Report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission. You can do this online or by calling 1-877-438-4338, and the FTC will collect the details of what’s happened to you. You may also want to report it the police, especially if you know the identity thief, the thief used your name in an altercation with the police, or a creditor or institution will require a copy of the police report.
- Contact your bank or financial institution. Tell your bank, credit provider or the relevant company what has happened. If any accounts have been opened with your stolen details, ask for them to be closed or cancelled. You may need to ask them to set you up new accounts and PINs.
- Inform the relevant government agency or business. If your driver's license, passport, birth or marriage certificate, or any other document with personal information have been stolen, let the relevant agency know. Similarly, if your financial documents or investment reports were taken, alert your stockbroker, financial planner or fund manager.
- Get a copy of your credit report. Tell the credit reporting agency that you have been a victim of identity theft, so they can note it in your file. Check your credit report to see what companies have checked your credit history recently, and let them know not to authorize any new accounts in your name.
Consider placing a ban on your credit report. You can freeze your credit files with Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion and the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange. This prevent fraudsters from applying for and getting approval for a credit account or services in your name.