How to protect your identity

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Identity theft is a growing problem in Australia, with estimates that it costs over $1.5 billion a year. While we see regular warnings regarding email scams and the potential damage they can do, there are several other less advanced but no less effective means for thieves to steal your identity.

Your details are on everything from bills and credit cards to your Facebook page. Using phishing software and messages, thieves are able to access your mobile via SMS and your computer via email, but they are also able to walk right up to your letterbox and steal your regular mail or grab your wallet full of cards if you aren’t careful.

So what are they hoping to do with your information and how can you protect your identity? The most common concern when financial details are lost is that you will be presented with a huge credit card bill for unexplained purchases. Other less obvious issues? Your personal details can be used to recreate your identity for a completely different person: credit cards, birth certificates and passports. With a full complement of ID, the thief is then free to apply for a loan in your name or even conduct criminal activity.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Offline protection

Never give your details to someone you don’t know – If you receive a phone call or email from someone claiming to be you’re your bank, phone company, electricity supplier or other organisation that you deal with, do not provide your personal details, particularly credit card information. Suggest that you call their company via their publicly available contact details – do not use numbers that the caller provides. Legitimate callers from these organisations will understand.  It is only a potential thief that may attempt to pressure you into dealing with them directly.

Always check your financial statements. Bank account, credit card and superannuation statements often remain ignored in their envelopes, but even a brief examination is often enough to pick up any untoward transactions. Even if you don’t suspect identity theft, transactions can be incorrectly charged to your account by the organisations themselves so it is a practice well worth undertaking.

Secure your personal details and documents. Avoid taking unnecessary documents when travelling. Secure important documents within your home (or purchase a safety deposit box) and secure your letterbox with a lock (and check that its design restricts access from the front flap).

Destroy bills and statements that are no longer required by shredding them. Do not simply throw them in your rubbish where they can be easily accessed either directly from your bin or from the tip once they are collected.

Online protection

Your mobile devices likely have more useable information for thieves than your wallet so you should be just as protective of them.

Use passwords for all mobile devices and computers to make access more difficult for thieves.

Don’t open email attachments or click on links from unknown sources.

Be aware that your social media may not be secure and protect your information accordingly. Consider disabling location devices, as many platforms will display your location, providing opportunities for would-be thieves (for example if you are away on holidays or out for dinner).

Disable pop-ups on your Internet browser as these can be used to hack into your computer and access personal information.

Only download apps and programmes from official sources.

Never use public computers (internet or office computers) to access your bank account and always log out of sites that require passwords when you finish with them.

While these tips will greatly limit the likelihood of any problems, you should always be vigilant and inform the police and your financial institutions immediately if you suspect identity theft. To assist with this process, take the time to make scans or photocopies of the cards in your wallet – both sides and including contact details. Doing so will reduce both the time it takes to freeze your accounts and the likelihood that you miss an important organization; thereby minimising the risk to you.

Olivia Maragna is the co-founder of Aspire Retire Financial Services and is a Finance Columnist for Brisbane Times

Olivia’s advice is general in nature and readers should seek their own professional advice before making any financial decisions.

Send your finance questions to Olivia at scoop@brisbanetimes.com.au.

You can follow Olivia at https://twitter.com/oliviamaragna 

Olivia Maragna

Olivia Maragna

 

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