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Identity Theft – What to look out for?

Hacker on laptop - Identity fraud

Roughly 5% of Australians have been a victim of cybercrime. That means more than 772,000 people have experienced identity theft in the past 12 months alone. A study conducted by credit bureau Veda in 2015, shows that almost 1 in 5 Australians (17% of the population) have had their personal information stolen at some stage. This has resulted in a surge of paranoia across the country, with 4 in 5 people – 82% of people saying they were in fear of their personal information being stolen.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a fraudulent practice where another individual’s identifiable information is used without their consent. With this information, the thief can open up store accounts, bank accounts, or use the information to obtain finance or credit. If someone obtains your personal information, they can use your name to make purchases or dispose of assets (such as your car, property or business). They can also enter financial commitments; or even into binding contracts (such as a fraudulent marriage). Common targets of an identity thief are mobile phone contracts, loan accounts, credit card accounts, vehicle loans and home loans.

Identity Cloning and Concealment

In this scenario, the thief impersonates somebody else to conceal their own true identity. This is predominately utilised by identity thieves to remain anonymous or to duplicate someone else’s identity.

Criminal Identity Theft

When a criminal fraudulently identifies himself to the police as another individual at the point of arrest, it is sometimes referred to as criminal identity theft. This can lead to numerous ramifications such as receiving court judgements, traffic violations and/or other registered infringements as a result of the criminal identity theft. The main issue with regards to this type of identity theft is how to manage the problems going forward and clear the victim’s name.

Credit Related Identity Theft

Credit-related identity theft is the most common form of identity theft. Thieves utilise the identity of a person in order to access credit or attempt to acquire more sensitive information from financial institutions. They will either target existing credit providers, or they will open up new credit facilities at banks, retail stores, and other facilities in that person’s name.

Medical Identity Theft

Medical Identity theft occurs when someone uses a person’s name or other elements of their identities. For example, insurance information without the person’s knowledge or consent to obtain medical services, or other related services or goods. Although this does not seem to be a common risk in Australia, it is believed to be on the rise.

Mail-Identity Theft

This is common in Australia and falls within the main definition of identity theft. Thieves gain access to private mail via theft from post boxes, theft from rubbish bins and also from internal mail theft. They then utilise the information to gain access to credit or other related financial instruments for their own benefit.

Common practices of identity thieves

  • Trash Diving – Trash diving occurs when somebody rifles through garbage to obtain personally identifiable information, such as credit card bills, utility bills, medical insurance, and bank statements. You should always shred any unwanted financial documents prior to disposal.
  • Mail Theft – Mail theft occurs when someone targets your mailbox and removes mail that has sensitive information within it. As in trash diving, a thief can take your credit card bills, bank statements; anything that can be used to steal your identity. At times, identity theft criminals have been known to re-route your mail without your knowledge or permission by submitting a change of address to the post office.
  • Social Engineering – Social engineering is the practice of someone either in person, over the telephone, or computer, using means to deceive someone else into divulging sensitive information. Usually, social engineers gather information that leads the victim to believe they are legitimate, therefore divulging the requested information. Social engineering is commonly known as a “con game” and is perpetrated by “con-men.”
  • Stealing Personal Items – Identity thieves can also obtain your personal information by stealing your wallet or purse.

Identity Theft versus Cyber Crime

  • Identity Theft falls under the definition of Cyber Crime but is not limited to electronic communications or information systems.
  • Cybercrime includes any criminal offence that is facilitated by the use of electronic communications or information systems.
  • Identity Theft can take place both inside and outside of the electronic communications environment, such as Trash Diving, Mail Theft, Social Engineering and Stealing Personal Items.
  • The Leading type of data breach caused by hackers according to the Gemalto Breach Level Index Annual Report 2015, was Identity Theft.
  • 2% of all data breaches recorded in the first half of 2015 worldwide were categorized as Identity Theft, meaning that the purpose of the hack was to obtain personal information.

You should always remain vigilant and carry out simple security checks to protect yourself. With all online transactions, such as shopping or using social media websites, make sure you are cognizant of the fact there may be people looking over your shoulder when you least expect it. Be precautionary, and always aware how vulnerable we all can be.