Identity fraud

Keeping it personal

Unfortunately, it has become very easy for someone to steal your personal details and carry out illegal activities in your name. However, you can take steps to protect yourself from identity fraud by following the tips below.

If you think your personal information has been stolen, contact the police immediately.

What is identity fraud or identity theft

Identity fraud is a type of fraud that involves the theft of your personal information, including your name, date of birth, address and other details. Fraudsters then use this information, for example, 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 licence, passport, investment reports, superannuation records, storage media such as USB devices, and any documents that contain your tax file number.

How identity theft happens

There are many ways in which people can steal your identity. Your personal information is everywhere: on the cards in your wallet, bills in your letter box, emails on your computer at home and at work, and information you post on social networking sites.

Smart tip

If you suddenly start receiving less mail, be cautious. This could mean that scammers are stealing or redirecting your mail.

This makes it easy for someone to get your personal details. For example, they can look through your garbage bins for bills and bank statements, steal your wallet or bag, break into your letter box 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, and 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. See banking and credit scams for more details on phishing.

So how can you tell if someone is pretending to be you? Some telltale signs are:

  • 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 spammy posts, and you are suddenly following a lot of new, unknown people. 

How to protect yourself from identity theft

There are several ways in which you can stop your identity from being stolen.

Day-to-day protection

  • 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 organisation, don't give them your details. Call the organisation yourself to check it is really them calling. Never click on a link or call a phone number in an email - use a phone directory 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 and superannuation statements - If you see any unusual transactions, contact your bank, credit card provider or super fund immediately.
  • Review your credit report - Get your credit report from one of these credit reporting agencies: (Equifax), (illion) and Tasmanian Collection Service. This allows you to check that no-one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts. See credit reports for tips on how to check your report.
  • Carry only essential information - Avoid taking important documents out of your home to minimise 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 letter box with a lock and collect your mail regularly. If you move house, notify the post office to redirect your mail. Mail sent to the wrong address could be used to steal your identity.
  • Protect your mobile phone - Be wary when installing applications onto your phone. Scammers may send you applications designed to download malicious software onto your phone and steal bank account details. See the ACCC's SCAMwatch webpage on mobile phone scams.

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 on social media - Identity thieves trawl sites like Facebook, and 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. They could be scams.
  • Be careful what information you give on social networking sites - Identity thieves trawl sites like Facebook and Twitter for personal details they can use.
  • Disable pop-ups on your browser - People can use pop-ups to install programs on your computer that 'spy' on you or record your key strokes. 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 log-ins. 
  • 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 wifi, Bluetooth and GPS when not in use.
  • Never use public computers for banking or payments - If you use a computer at a library or internet café 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.

For more information on online scam protection, see the Australian Goverment website Stay Smart Online.

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:

  1. Change your passwords - On your email, social media accounts, online bank log-in, and computer/mobile device log-in. In some cases you will also need to change your email address and close your old account. 
  2. Report it immediately to the police - Ask for a copy of the police report as banks and financial institutions will want to see it.
  3. 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.
  4. Inform the relevant government agency or business - If your driver's licence, passport, citizenship papers, Medicare card, birth, marriage and change of name certificates, tax file number, superannuation or pension details have been stolen, let the relevant agency know. Similarly, if your financial documents or investment reports were taken, alert your stock broker, financial planner or fund manager.
  5. Get a copy of your credit report -You should 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 authorise any new accounts in your name. Get a copy of your credit report from one of these reporting agencies: (Equifax), (illion) and Tasmanian Collection Service.
  6. Consider placing a ban on your credit report - You can ask each credit reporting agency to put a temporary ban in place. During this period (initially 21 days, but can be extended), they cannot share your credit report with credit providers without your consent. 
  7. Get help from IDCARE - IDCARE is a free government‑industry service which works with you to develop specific response plans to reduce the risk and impact of identity fraud.
  8. Apply for a Commonwealth Victims' Certificate - A Commonwealth Victims' Certificate will help support your claim that you have been the victim of a Commonwealth identity crime. You can provide this certificate to businesses or government agencies to help re-establish your credentials or correct any problems the identity crime has caused you.

Visit what to do if you've been scammed to find out how to report a scam and where to find support after being scammed.

Identity theft can be devastating, both financially and emotionally. Follow the above guidelines to protect yourself and always alert the authorities if you suspect your details have been stolen or are being misused.

Related links

Last updated: 27 Feb 2019