Have you locked your identity?
We do our utmost to protect our homes, cars and valuables from criminals. Most of us assume our identities at least are safe. Think again.
This week is National Identity Fraud Awareness Week. The fact that this crime has its own dedicated week speaks volumes.
So what is identity theft?
It’s when someone uses your personal information and pretends to be you, in order to steal your money or gain some other kind of benefit.
We all know to cancel our cards when our wallet is stolen, but there are a number of other creative ways that criminals can get hold of personal information. For example: Bin pilfering – whereby someone literally goes through your rubbish in search of bank statements, tax information, or anything with your personal details on it;
Phishing emails – where a fraudster sends a fake email, usually pretending to be from a financial institution, and uses a clever reason to ask for your account details; or phony fraud alerts – a “warning” purporting to be from your bank, alerting you about a hoax and encouraging you to “protect yourself” by clicking on a link and entering your account details.
Simply using the internet can put you at risk. The best anti-virus software may not protect you from “botnets”, which spread malicious malware that can turn off your security and spy on the keys you press, allowing the perpetrator to retrieve sensitive information. If you use wireless internet but don’t have an encrypted password, anyone can sit outside your house and access your network. It’s that easy.
There is a sophisticated cyber network out there, allowing crooks to gain information, trade botnets, and convert their ill-gotten gains into cash.
The Rudd Government’s April announcement to build a new high speed broadband network will certainly improve internet speed. But the flip side is that cyber crooks will also get faster. According to Allistair McGibbon, formerly of the AFP’s High Tech Crime Operations, “the Federal Government needs to be investing in personnel and technologies to protect us as they roll these things out.”
Law enforcers find it very difficult to trace these crimes back to the perpetrators, especially given that a growing threat is from overseas. And even if they do, the penalties being applied aren’t much of a deterrent. A Perth man recently convicted of trying to sell over 50,000 stolen credit cards online received a $2,000 good behaviour bond and a one year suspended prison sentence.
So what can you do? Be vigilant. Take note of your bank balance, shred personal documents, secure your wireless internet, update anti-virus software, and be suspicious of anyone asking for personal information.
In short, treat your identity as you would your home.
For more information please see Australian victim of identity theft receives US$1.2 million damages bill from US court.