In this digital age, as Australians continue to adopt the convenience of services like online shopping, banking and instant communication, we may not realise that our actions can leave an ever-present trail of personal data on the web.
While the majority of online activity is safe and secure, the presence of scam artists both on and offline poses a potential threat to your personal data and identity. Identity crime is now one of the most common crimes in Australia, with an estimated economic impact exceeding $1.6 billion every year in Australia alone.
May 18-24 is National Consumer Fraud Week 2015, and as a partner of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, Optus is encouraging consumers to educate themselves in a number of ways in order to secure personal data and protect against the risk of identity theft.
It is so important to take the time to consider how to keep your private information secure, and not left wide open for scammers to use for a range of fraudulent activity.
If scammers steal your details, they can use them in various forms of identity crime – all of which amount to a major headache – including making unauthorised purchases on your credit card, setting up another credit card or bank account in your name, using your identity to sign up for mobile phone plans, electricity accounts, loans or carrying out illegal business activities under your name.
Having your identity stolen can be both financially and emotionally devastating. It can take many months to reclaim your identity, and the impact of the theft can last for years.
Despite this bleak picture, the great news is that there are ways to minimise your risk to identity theft.
The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, together with their partners, is urging Australian consumers to get serious about protecting their personal data and keeping it out of the hands of dangerous scammers.
You must be alert to the ways in which scammers try to access your personal information. Keep scammers out of your life by following SCAMwatch’s Top 6 Protect Yourself tips:
- Keep your personal details secure: Your postal mail and your online presence are the first place a scammer will look to piece together your details. Lock your mailbox, shred your bills and other important documents before throwing them out. Be careful when sharing information about yourself online, including social media, blogs and other online forums.
- Think twice about what you say and do in an online environment: While there are times when your personal details are required for legitimate reasons, such as signing up to a new service or buying something, always check that the person or organisation is who they say they are. Stop and think before filling in surveys, entering competitions, clicking on links or attachments, or even ‘befriending’, ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ something on social networks.
- Keep your mobile devices and computers secure: These are a treasure trove of personal information for scammers. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable – always use password protection. Don’t share access with others (including remotely). Update security software and back up your content. Protect your Wi-Fi network with a password and avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access online banking or provide personal information.
- Choose your passwords carefully: Passwords are often the only barrier between scammers and your valuable information. Set and use strong passwords which are difficult to guess, and change them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same password for every account/profile, and don’t share your passwords with anyone.
- Beware of any request for your details or money: Scammers will try to trick you into handing over your data by using the names of well-known companies or government departments. If you think it’s a scam, DON’T RESPOND. Use the phone book or an online search to check the organisation’s contact details. NEVER use the contact details provided in the original request.
- Get a copy of your credit report: Your credit report contains information on your credit history. You can get a free copy of your report every year to check that no-one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts. Find out how to get your free credit report on ASIC’s MoneySmart website – www.moneysmart.gov.au.
To find out more about the various forms of identity theft, how to protect yourself and what to do if you’ve been scammed, visit the SCAMwatch website – www.scamwatch.gov.au/fraudweek2015.If you think your banking details have been compromised, you should contact your bank or credit union immediately to let them know. If you think your identity information has been stolen, you should contact iDcare – a free government-industry service which works with you to develop specific response plans to your situation to reduce risk and impact. Visit the iDcare website – www.idcare.org or call 1300 IDCARE (432273).
An initiative of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce
Optus SingTel Pty Ltd is a Partner of the Taskforce and urges you to protect yourself against scams.