Two months ago my sister, Julia was the victim of identity fraud. Two thousand dollars quickly disappeared from her bank accounts before she detected it.
This week is National Identity Fraud Awareness Week (NIDFAW), so I encourage you to consider how you may be placing yourself at risk of identity fraud. Then act to prevent it.
NIDFAW spokesperson Peter Campbell noted that “potentially, all it could take is a combination of a few carelessly discarded pieces of information such as name, date of birth and bank account details for the fraudsters to have the information they need to attempt to commit identity fraud.”
How my sister was defrauded
- Offender contacted her bank and changed her phone banking password.
- Offender ordered a Visa Debit card linked to her savings account.
- Offender stole the Visa Debit card and PIN from her letter box.
- Offender withdrew the max $1,000 from ATM using Visa debit card.
- Offender used phone banking to make a cash advance from her credit card to her savings account.
- The next day the offender withdrew another $1,000 using the Visa Debit card.
- That same day my sister detected the fraud and contacted her bank about the missing $2,000. The card was cancelled.
It could easily happen to you
Often we are very conscious of online identity fraud but paper based fraud is still the most common way for an identity to be stolen.
And 75% of Australians put themselves at risk of paper based identity fraud by throwing away highly sensitive information.
Lock away your mail
Needless to say Julia now has a lock on her letter box, as do we. I recommend that you do too.
In fact, some years ago after mail was stolen from the letter box at our old house we decided to get a post office box. If there is a post office convenient to you then a post office box can be a low cost way to help protect your sensitive mail.
A post office box also helps keep your home safe when you are away on holidays by preventing mail accumulating.
For legal reasons it is a good idea to retain copies of your tax returns and related financial statements for around seven years. These documents contain precisely the sensitive information that could enable your identity to be stolen.
To help protect your identity store these records in a lockable filing cabinet. And of course keep the cabinet locked with the key hidden away.
I know that we have so many locks these days that it can be considered inconvenient to lock things and hide the keys. So I was excited recently to find a very affordable small lockable key cabinet at my local hardware store. Yes it is more of a barrier than truly secure, but it is convenient and thieves do first need to find it. Plus it helps keep my young children out of places I don’t want them.
Today many of our statements and records may be received electronically and stored on our computers. This is convenient and low cost. But if your computer is stolen or simply accessed while you aren’t around you could be giving up sensitive information.
Protect yourself by:
- Password protecting your computer.
- Storing these sensitive records in an encrypted folder on your computer.
- Automatically locking your smartphone when not in use.
- Securely erasing disk drives before discarding of old computers and USB drives. (Ask a geeky friend or relative to point you in the right direction.)
- Create passwords/PINS that are not easily associated with you and your details such as date of birth, phone number and age.
- Only allow trusted close friends to EFT money directly into your bank account.
Encryption is easier than you may think. Most modern computer operating systems (e.g. Microsoft Windows) have an inbuilt encryption facility that enables you to selectively encrypt folders.
Many of us now have smartphones and use the apps to store documents and access websites that contain sensitive personal information. For convenience often these apps automatically remember your logins and passwords. So ensure that you lock your smartphone when it is not in use.
Update on 2nd April 2011: New research has shown that “over half of secondhand mobile phones retain important personal data of the original owner”. So ensure you format the phone’s memory and destroy your SIM card before discarding it.
Share birthday wishes privately not publically on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Even just saying “happy birthday Matt” on Facebook gives away the day and month of my birth. Adding the personalisation of my age is a nice touch, especially on a milestone birthday, but it gives away my entire date of birth.
Shred before discarding
Documents containing the following sensitive information should be shredded before being placed in the rubbish bin:
- Account details (of anything where money can change hands)
- Dates of birth
- Tax file, Centrelink and Medicare numbers
Personally I like to shred statements and letters referencing any account details for anything. This includes all bank, investment, superannuation and insurance products, plus utility bills.
Protect your identity and the environment
If like me you like to recycle paper then I recommend you buy a compost bin. I discovered recently that putting shredded paper into our composter helps to keep it balanced and healthy. Plus composting saves us money.
Other tips from NIDFAW
The partners in National Identity Fraud Awareness Week suggested these additional tips:
- Check your account statements regularly and look for any unusual or unauthorised activity.
- Subscribe to an ID theft protection/monitoring service such as Secure Identity that allows you to proactively monitor your credit file for fraudulent activity and be able to react swiftly should you become a target for ID theft.
- Contact your credit card company and banking institution before departing for travel, or your travel may prompt a block on your account.
For more information on how to protect yourself from identity fraud, and how to cope if you are a victim of ID fraud, visit the official campaign website www.stopIDtheft.com.au or www.crimestoppers.com.au for more information.
Got your own story or extra tips?
Have you been the victim of identity theft or know someone who has? If so, please share your extra tips for how to prevent what happened to you. You can do so in the comments below. (Share it anonymously if you prefer to protect your identity.)
Article sources include:
* National Identity Fraud Awareness Week (NIDFAW) media release.
* Fellowes (2010), Newspoll Survey, Australia – ID Fraud Awareness, conducted on a national online study with a sample of 1211 people aged 18-64 years.