THE Australian Federal Police define identity crime as ‘activities/offences in which a perpetrator uses a fabricated identity; a manipulated identity; or a stolen/assumed identity to facilitate the commission of a crime.
Identity fraud, also called identity theft, is a specific type of identity crime.
A criminal will use the identity of an individual as the means to nefarious ends.
That could mean opening credit cards in the victim’s name and using them with no intention of paying the bill, attempting to withdraw money from a victim’s bank account or another type of plot.
Identity crime can cause major problems. The financial aspect of it can’t be overlooked — unsurprisingly, no one wants to be exposed to a financial burden on their credit or savings account.
Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop there. Identity theft frequently involves actions that, although not the direct intent of the crime, can put negative marks on your credit report.
And that leads to a drop in your credit score. The last thing you need is to have a negative impact on your score which can reduce your chances at securing credit when you really need it, such as to purchase a home or car.
This can also be frustrating if you’ve put in significant time and energy into improving your credit score, just for it to be reduced by factors out of your control.
Protecting yourself Now that we know the impact that identity theft can have, here are three key steps you can take to keep your identity and finances protected.
There are proven steps you can take to reduce the chances of suffering from identity fraud.
While none of the suggestions offer complete protection, taking many of the steps outlined below can reduce your level of risk.
It’s important to remember that identity fraud can involve real-life documents as well as digital information, so a broad strategy is best.
Consider these three key steps: l Limit access to your mail and paper documents Physical documents can be a valuable source of information for identity thieves. You can make your mail more secure by:
- Installing a locked mailbox that is more difficult to access than the regular version.
- Putting a hold on your mail whenever you travel or will otherwise be away from home for a significant period of time.
- Promptly arrange for mail forwarding when you move, and update your address with every lender, utility provider and other business that sends you bills and other important information.
- Shredding or securing documents after you’ve reviewed them.
Making your digital activity more secure Digital information is a common starting point for criminals engaging in identity fraud. You can limit your risk by:
- Being careful about the things you do on unsecured wifi networks and public computers. Criminals can potentially access information sent through unsecured networks, so take care of banking and similarly sensitive tasks on a secure network.
- Thinking before you act when making purchases online. Only use secure sites (https://) and secure payment systems, make sure you’re using a company’s actual web address — as opposed to a lookalike URL created by a scammer — and keep an eye out for misspellings, odd formatting and other signs that a website may not be legitimate.
- Be aware of scams and phishing traps. Emails, text messages and phone calls from scammers often use pressure tactics to make people act before they think.
- You can verify the identity of the person sending the message or get in touch with the company they claim to represent before moving forward.
Credit score and credit reports:
Monitoring your credit report and signing up for credit score alerts from GetCreditScore can keep you more informed, meaning you’re ready to act if something goes awry.
Sign up to receive your free credit score from GetCredit- Score. Then, look out for alerts about changes to your credit score. A large change in a short period of time may indicate potential fraud.
Review the credit and identity products available from Equifax. You can request a free copy of your credit report every 12 months for a detailed review, as well as purchase additional protections like Identity Guard Insurance and/or Identity Watch which will alert you if your listed identity documentation numbers and passwords are circulating on the dark web.