Identity crime is a critical threat to the Australian community. This crime type generates significant profits for offenders and causes considerable financial losses to the Australian Government, private industry and individuals.
What is identity crime?
A set of standard definitions were developed by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre's Proof of Identity Steering Committee for use by law enforcement throughout Australia (ACPR 2006:15):
- The term identity encompasses the identity of natural persons (living or deceased) and the identity of bodies corporate
- Identity fabrication to be used to describe the creation of a fictitious identity
- Identity manipulation to be used to describe the alteration of one's own identity
- Identity theft to be used to describe the theft or assumption of a pre-existing identity (or significant part thereof), with or without consent and whether, in the case of an individual, the person is living or deceased
- Identity crime to be used as a generic term to describe 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(s).
What does identity crime cost in Australia?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Fraud Survey 2010-11, Australians lost $1.4 billion due to personal fraud.
More alarmingly, the survey estimated a total of 1.2 million Australians aged 15 years and over were victim of at least one incident of identity fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey interview. This is an increase from 806,000 victims of personal fraud in 2007 (5 per cent).
What is being done about identity crime in Australia?
The AFP, in collaboration with other government departments and private sector organisations, is involved in a variety of activities to tackle identity theft and identity crime.
The AFP hosts multi-agency Identity Security Strike Teams (ISSTs) in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. ISSTs are dedicated to the investigation of identity related crime, including the compromise of personal information and the production of false or forged documents.
The ISSTs focus on investigating serious and complex identity crime matters and form a collaborative network among law enforcement agencies to effectively deal with this crime type.
ISSTs work in close cooperation with state police to target the groups responsible for this activity.
What does a criminal do with my personal information?
Once a criminal has the information they need they could:
- apply for a credit card in your name
- open a bank or building society account in your name
- apply for other financial services in your name
- run up debts (e.g. use your credit/debit card details to make purchase) or obtain a loan in your name
- apply for any benefits in your name (e.g. housing benefit, new tax credits, income support, job seeker's allowance, child benefit)
- apply for a driving licence in your name
- register a vehicle in your name
- apply for a job/employment in your name
- apply for a passport in your name
- apply for a mobile phone contract in your name.
How can I protect myself from becoming a victim of identity theft?
You can take some simple steps to reduce the risks of having your personal information stolen or misused:
- secure your mail box with a lock and make sure mail is cleared regularly
- shred or destroy your personal and financial papers before you throw them away, or keep them in a secure place if you wish to retain them
- always cover the keypad at ATMs or on EFTPOS terminals when entering your PIN, and be aware of your surroundings— is anyone trying to observe or watch you, are there any strange or loose fixtures attached to the machine or terminal?
- ensure that the virus and security software on your computers and mobile devices is up-to-date and current
- don't use public computers (for instance, at an internet café), or unsecured wireless 'hotspots', to do your internet banking or payments
- only use trusted online payment websites for items won at online auctions or purchased online. Never make payments outside of trusted systems—particularly for goods which you have not yet received
- regularly review your bank statements and obtain a copy of your credit history report. Report any unauthorised transactions or entries ASAP
- ask your bank or financial institution for a credit or debit card with an embedded 'micro-chip'—they are more secure than cards with only magnetic stripes
- do not respond to scam emails or letters promising huge rewards if bank account details are supplied, or in return for the payment of 'release fees' or 'legal fees'
- if responding to an online employment or rental advertisement, be wary of transmitting personal information and copies of documents via email or electronically. If asked to attend an interview, do some prior research to confirm the legitimacy of the company or employment agency
- in relation to social networking sites, always use the most secure settings. Take extreme care if placing personal details such as date of birth, address, phone contacts or educational details on your profile, and do not accept unsolicited 'friend' requests
- for other useful tips, refer to the "Protecting Your Identity booklet – What Everyone Needs to Know (PDF, 700KB)", published by the Attorney-General's Department.
- take our online identity crime survey to see how secure your identity is.
How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft?
You may become a victim of identity theft if:
- you have lost or had stolen important documents such as your passport or driving licence
- post expected from your bank has not arrived or you are receiving no post at all.
You may already be a victim of identity theft if:
- items have appeared on your bank or credit card statements that you do not recognise
- you applied for a government benefit but are told that you are already claiming
- you receive bills, invoices or receipts addressed to you for goods or services you haven't asked for
- you have been refused a financial service, such as a credit card or a loan, despite having a good credit history
- a mobile phone contract has been set up in your name without your knowledge
- you have received letters from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that aren't yours.
If I'm a victim, am I responsible for any fraudulent credit card or bank transactions?
If you have been a victim of identity crime and your card is still in your possession, you should not have to pay for anything bought on it without your permission (subject to the terms and conditions of your account).
If your card has been lost or stolen, you will usually not have to pay, unless it can be shown that you have acted fraudulently or without reasonable care, for example by keeping your PIN number written down with your card. The same applies to any money lost through fraudulent bank transactions.
Certificates for victims of Commonwealth identity crime
The Australian Government Attorney-General's Department has commenced a scheme associated with the provision of certificates where an individual or a business is the victim of Commonwealth identity crime.
If you or your business is a victim of identity crime and you have a Commonwealth Victims' Certificate, you may present the certificate and any other relevant information to a government agency or other organisation. The certificate will help support your claim that you have been a victim of Commonwealth identity crime and will allow you to seek assistance in rectifying problems you have suffered as a consequence of the crime. The certificate does not, however, bind an organisation to take action.
Visit the Attorney-General's Department website for more information about Commonwealth Victims' Certificates.
Who can I contact for more information?
Information about new methods of identity crime and emerging scams can be found at SCAMWatch —a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
If you would like to report a scam you can complete the SCAMWatch online form.
Visit the Attorney-General's Department website for more about securing your identity.
Who can help me?
If you think you have been the victim of identity crime, report the matter to your local police.
The Australian Government has implemented a scheme to assist victims of Commonwealth identity crime to recover their identity if it has been compromised. Visit the Attorney-General's Department website for more information about what you can do as a victim and how you can obtain a Commonwealth Victims' Certificate.