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It’s more commonly seen as the outlandish plot of a spy thriller – but identity theft is an incredibly real threat. And as technology and the age of information have become more and more integrated in our lives, this threat has only increased.

Thankfully, we’ve got all your big questions on identity theft covered, including the top ways you can protect yourself.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a particular form of identity crime. Specifically, identity theft involves the theft or misuse of someone’s pre-existing identity (in its entirety, or part thereof) with or without consent.

This can be done in just about any way you can imagine, but the common result is a financial liability (or loss) to the affected person. The most common forms of identity theft include:

  • Applying for a credit card (or other financial services) under another person’s name
  • Applying for or accepting benefits (tax credits, income support, etc.) under another person’s name
  • Obtaining a vehicle or driving licence under another person’s name
  • Using a person’s credit card information to make fraudulent purchases
  • Applying for a passport (or any other formal identification documentation) under another person’s name.

Most commonly, these acts of identity theft link back to either the application for credit cards or financial services, or the misuse of your active credit card information. And the underlying factor is, it can cost you precious time and money to resolve.

Just how many Australians have been targeted?

The statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics makes for grim reading.

During a series of interviews conducted in 2014-15, the ABS concluded that 8.5% of the population aged over 15 had experienced personal fraud in the previous 12 months. Back in 2010-11, that figure was only 6.7%.

Card fraud was the most common form reported. And to make matters worse, 31% of those affected by card fraud reported they’d experienced 2 or more incidents.

Almost a third of those affected by card fraud were targeted 2 or more times.

Identity theft specifically occurred for around 126,000 Australians in the same period throughout 2014-15. In a slight silver lining, only 18% of victims experienced 2 or more incidents of identity fraud.

Across 75% of all personal fraud cases, the person targeted suffered financial loss. Together, it’s estimated that the total amount lost in a 12 month period, in Australia alone, was $3 billion.

1.2 million Australians suffered financial loss from personal fraud.

How do I know if I’m a victim?

There are some easy ways to check if you’ve been targeted by potential identity thieves. The most common ways to quickly tell if your information has been compromised are:

  • Any missing or stolen hard drives – Drives that contain your personal information (such as an old resume, or other personal documents).
  • Your mail is missing – Maybe you haven’t received any of your regular letters from the bank in a while, or maybe you haven’t received anything at all. Either way, missing mail is a common catalyst for identity fraud.
  • Your mail isn’t yours – If you start receiving mail in regards to accounts, loans, credit cards, or any other service you didn’t sign up to, you can suspect you were probably the victim of identity theft. Worst case, you’ll even receive letters from debt collectors or solicitors.

What can I do to better protect myself?

Thankfully, there are easy measures you can take to keep your identity safe. To give your details the best chance of staying under-wraps, you should always:

  • Keep your PIN hidden as you enter it, in any EFTPOS machine, ATM, or any other card-reading device
  • Never use public computers, Wi-Fi, or any other untrusted hotspot to perform internet banking, or any other information-heavy activities online
  • Never give personal information to online sources without a proper understanding of their Privacy Policy, or that you don’t 100% trust
  • Be extremely careful with any electronic devices, or old files that might contain sensitive personal information – dumping these items in landfill can never guarantee their safety.

If you have any hard drives, USBs, mobile phones, laptops, computers, files or anything else beyond its useful life, don’t leave it to landfill and don’t leave it sitting around collecting dust. Ensure your sensitive information is completely destroyed by contacting the team at Shred-X today.