An Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce initiative
If you haven't stopped and thought about how you keep your private information secure, chances are you could be leaving it wide open for scammers to use for fraudulent purposes. When scammers steal your details, they can use them for all sorts of identity crime such as making unauthorised purchases on your credit card, or using your identity to open accounts such as banking, telephone or energy services, take out loans or carry out other illegal business under your name.
These days scammers are after more than just financial information. All your personal details including photos, date of birth, home address, Tax File Number or driver's license numbers are valuable to scammers – these are your unique identification records that are often used to verify who you are.
A determined scammer will use a number of sneaky methods to steal your information. Scammers have been known to pay people to rummage through rubbish dumps looking for bills or bank statements, or to simply steal mail directly from people's letterboxes. They also use the internet to search through public listings, social media profiles and even blog comments to piece together your details.
On a more sophisticated level, scammers create fake websites, fake online surveys and fake competitions with enticing prizes to 'phish' for your information. They also send official-looking emails or telephone you directly, pretending to be from a trusted source such as your bank, telecommunications provider, a government department or even a charity organisation, asking for your details.
You may not know you have had your identity stolen until you check your bank account, or find out that your credit rating has changed.
Having your identity stolen can be both financially and emotionally devastating. It can take months to reclaim your identity, and the impact of having it stolen can last for years. National Consumer Fraud Week 2015 is all about learning how to keep your personal data safe from scammers, and prevent identity theft from happening to you.
To leave scammers out in the cold, follow SCAMwatch's Top 6 Protect Yourself tips:
1. 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, and shred your bills and other important documents before throwing out. Be careful sharing information about yourself online, including social media, blogs and other online forums.
2. Think twice about what you say and do in an online environment: Whilst 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.
3. Keep your mobile devices and computers secure: These are a treasure trove of personal information for scammers. Don't leave yourself vulnerable to a scammer – always use password protection, don't share access with others (including remotely), update security software and back up 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
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 SCAMwatch website to find out more about the various forms of identity theft, how to protect yourself and what to do if you've been scammed. You can also follow SCAMwatch on Twitter or subscribe to SCAMwatch Radars .
Get smarter with your data
National Consumer Fraud Week 2015
An initiative of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce
The NSW Department of Justice is a Partner of the Taskforce and urges you to protect yourself against scams.