With the online world, criminals are becoming far more astute at learning different methods of extracting our personal details.
Q. How can my identity be stolen?
A. Through theft or loss of your personal documents!
Personal information is information that can reasonably be used to identify a person. Your name and address are obvious examples. In some cases, your date of birth and post code may be enough to identify you. Personal information can also include your tax file number, bank account details, photographs, videos, and even information about your opinions and where you work – basically, any information where you are reasonably identifiable.
A personal document is any document that contains information about you. Examples include phone, bank and utility bills, medical records, tax refund assessment notices, home ownership deeds and rental agreements.
An identity credential is a type of personal document that is commonly requested by governments and businesses as evidence that you are who you say you are. It contains personal information about you, such as your name, date of birth, and address. Examples include your passport, birth certificate and driver licence.
Your identity may be stolen if:
- you lose your purse, wallet or handbag or it is stolen
- your home is broken into and personal documents are stolen
- thieves steal mail from your unsecured letter box, or
- thieves retrieve mail, information or personal documents from your rubbish.
Through theft of your personal information
Your identity can also be stolen if thieves gain access to your personal information. Even if you think thieves only have a small amount of information about you, they can use public sources like social media to find out additional personal information about you, including photographs, your date and place of birth and even information about your family. This can be enough to apply for services, such as a new bank account. They can also use your personal information to create fake identity credentials in your name or even apply for real identity credentials in your name, but with their photograph.
Your identity may be stolen if:
- you provide personal information over the phone or internet to what appears to be a legitimate business, but is actually a scam
- information about you stored on a business computer system is illegally accessed by outsiders or corrupt employees
- your online account is hacked
- your personal information is retrieved from social media, or
- copies of your personal documents are stolen.
How will I know if I’m a victim of identity theft?
You may not even know you are a victim of identity theft until long after it has happened. You should look for these warning signs:
- calls from creditors, debt collectors or solicitors about transactions you didn’t enter into or debts that aren’t yours
- arrival of new credit cards that you didn’t ask for
- unexpected denial of credit
- refusal of services or benefits because you are told you are already receiving them
- mail you were expecting, such as bills, not arriving or a reduction in mail
- arrival of bills for goods or services you didn’t order
- unfamiliar charges or withdrawals on your credit or bank card, or
- lost wallet, purse or identity credentials – even if you lose them and they are returned they could have been copied.
Q. What should I do to protect my personal identity security?
A. Only carry essential personal documents
Try not to regularly carry important documents, such as your passport, outside of your home to reduce the risk of them being lost or stolen.
Destroy personal documents before putting them in the bin
Destroy important documents, such as bills, identity credentials and credit cards before you throw them out. Good ways to destroy documents include tearing, cutting, shredding or burning. Some elderly people (concerned about using a shredder) choose to put unnecessary letters containing personal details in a sink of water overnight. Come the morning, they simply squeeze all the soaked letters together and dispose of them in the bin, with the knowledge that all possible means of identification is lost as a result of the pap’e-mashe effect!
Make copies of key documents and keep them in a secure location
Make copies of your key identity credentials, such as your driver licence, birth certificate, or passport, and keep these copies in a secure location. The copies could be useful in re-issuing the originals if they go missing or are destroyed. They may also help you to verify your identity.
Protect your personal documents
Consider storing important documents and copies in a fire/water proof secure container or safe deposit box. Make sure documents stored electronically, such as copies of identity credentials, are secure. Strong passwords, encrypted files or trusted data vault websites are all options for secure electronic storage. Don’t leave your personal documents in your car.
Secure your mail
Ensure you secure your letterbox or use a secure post office box. Remove mail from your mailbox as soon as possible. Only post mail at secure, official post boxes. Notify businesses and friends when you move house as soon as possible. Organisations you should inform include:
- credit and store-card companies
- utility providers
- your employer
- your accountant
- your university or school
- health care providers
- insurance companies, and
- sports clubs or gyms.
- Treat any request for personal information or copies of your identity credentials with caution
- Limit the information contained in online family trees
- Order a copy of your credit report annually
- Protect your computer
- Check your online bank and credit card records carefully
- Avoid entering personal information or a password on an unsecured website
- Protect your passwords
- Do not enter any passwords information in a free wi-fi area
- Use different passwords and usernames
- Never click on a link or open an attachment in an e-mail from someone you don’t know and trust
- Do not allow remote access to your computer
- Protect information on mobile phones
Protect your documents when you are travelling
When you are travelling overseas take extra care of your personal documents. Make two photocopies of important documents, such as your passport, itinerary, visas, traveller’s cheques, credit card numbers, driver licence and insurance policy. Leave one copy at home with your family or a friend and the other separate from the originals in a safe place while you’re travelling.