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Scams involving identity theft have cost Australians at least $16 million this year, and that figure is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg”, says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Worryingly, four in every 10 Scamwatch reports so far in 2019 have involved an attempt to gain information or the actual loss of a victim’s information.
“If you think scammers might have gained access to your personal information, even in a scam completely unrelated to your finances, immediately contact your bank,” says ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“Timeliness in alerting your financial institution is absolutely crucial.”
Identity thieves can empty victims’ bank accounts, take out tens of thousands of dollars in bank loans under victims’ names, and purchase expensive furniture or electronics under ‘no-repayments for 12 months’ schemes.
“Identity thieves can make victims’ lives a nightmare. They’ll change the victims’ phone carrier so they lose service and set up mail redirections so they’re in the dark about what’s going on,” says Ms Rickard.

You might not even know until you apply for finance

Here’s the really scary bit, though.
You might not even know you’ve fallen victim to identity theft until the day you have difficulty obtaining finance due to an inexplicably bad credit rating, points out ASIC.
This is why it’s important to regularly check your credit report, which you can do for free every year via (Equifax) or (illion).
ASIC says if you’re a victim of identity theft you should tell the credit reporting agencies so they can note it in your file.
“Check your credit report to see what companies have checked your credit history recently, and let them know not to authorise any new accounts in your name,” ASIC adds.
You can also consider placing a temporary ban on your credit report to give you time to report the matter to police, and then send the police report to the credit agencies.
While the freeze is in place (initially 21 days, but it can be extended), the credit reporting agencies cannot share your credit report with credit providers without your consent.
If you can prove you weren’t responsible for the fraudulent transactions then you’ll hopefully be able to get your credit score fixed.

How people fall victim to identity theft

Some of the common ways that scammers obtain personal or banking information include:
– phishing emails and text messages which impersonate banks or utility providers seeking your login details
– fake online quizzes and surveys
– fake job advertisements
– remote access scams in which the scammer has direct access to everything on your computer
– sourcing information about you from social media platforms
– direct requests for scans of your driver’s license or passport, often in the course of a dating and romance scam.
“No one is really selling an iPhone for $1, or rewarding the completion of a survey with expensive electronic goods or large gift vouchers. They’re scams to get your valuable personal information,” says Ms Rickard.

If you’ve fallen victim to identity theft

Be alert to the signs of identity theft, says Ms Rickard
“If your mobile phone suddenly loses coverage, you haven’t received expected electronic or physical mail, or you receive unexpected notifications from a financial institution, call your bank,” she says.
If you have been the victim of identity theft, contact IDCARE on 1300 432 273. IDCARE can guide you through the steps to reclaim your identity.
People can also report a scam to the ACCC via Scamwatch.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and is presented for informative purposes. It is not intended to constitute financial advice, whether general or personal nor is it intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product. It does not take into consideration your personal situation and may not be relevant to circumstances. Before taking any action, consider your own particular circumstances and seek professional advice. This content is protected by copyright laws and various other intellectual property laws. It is not to be modified, reproduced or republished without prior written consent.