With the news around the massive data breach of Equifax in the US, it’s a good time to think about the security of your personal information and what you can do to guard against ID theft.

Identity theft is a risk we should all be aware of and it is very hard not to be exposed to some degree given that a lot of things these days require sharing a lot of your personal details with a third party.

Examples of this can include those big life steps such as buying or selling your house, changing jobs, getting married, renting, or having kids.

Whether it’s applying for credit or just filling out necessary paperwork, you’re probably going to have to provide your full name, address, date of birth, maybe even your driver’s licence number and credit card or bank account details and this puts you at risk of having your identity stolen.

Then there’s the less obvious ways to consider like exposure on social media platforms. Displaying your full name, address and date of birth on social media, or even commenting on those posts asking about your first pet’s name can increase the risk. Think ‘security questions’!

So what can we do to protect ourselves from identity theft? Let’s take a look at these tips below:

 

Security online

Make sure you’re using firewalls, antivirus software, updating your apps and programs and have strong passwords that you update regularly. Seems pretty obvious but it’s worth repeating. Use a different password for each of your accounts and make sure they’re strong and not shared with anyone. Many sites, apps and services now also require you to use 2-factor authentication to further secure your accounts.

Check your security settings within your social media profiles and make sure you’re only sharing the information with who you are comfortable sharing it with – the default settings are very open so if you’ve never done this it’s worth a look!

It’s hard to avoid ever using your personal details online, but be sure you’re using trusted websites. When entering your details, make sure the website URL starts with https and the website has a SSL certificate (there should be a small padlock in the address bar). Also avoid logging into anything like your internet banking while on a public Wi-Fi network or shared computer.

 

Monitor your credit file

One of the main aims of identity theft is to fraudulently obtain credit (aka free money) in someone else’s name. Keeping a close eye on your credit file is one of the key ways to watch out for this.

Entries on your credit file that you didn’t make or have no knowledge of can indicate that someone has used your identity to apply for credit.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit file from each credit reporting body in Australia once a year. You can also sign up to a service like Credit Savvy to monitor your Experian credit file and receive alerts whenever there are changes to your file.

 

Go through your statements

If someone has your bank account details or card numbers, they could use them to make purchases. So make sure you check your credit card and bank statements each month to make sure there are no fraudulent charges to your account. Remember, if someone does get a hold of your details, they won’t necessarily go large straight away with a massive spending spree. They might only make a few small purchases to test the water as these are less likely to be detected by the fraud monitoring systems used by credit card companies.

 

Check your mail and destroy documents securely

Did you know that your mailbox and rubbish bins can actually be a jackpot for criminals? Even the humble catalogue or magazine that you receive contains information that someone could use to steal your identity; your name, address, possibly the barcode or ID number associated with your account. So it’s important to clear out your mailbox regularly and dispose your documents securely. Paper shredders aren’t just for dodgy white collar criminals who need to destroy evidence.

 

Consider using credit over debit

Frank Abagnale, American security consultant and former conman who inspired the movie Catch Me If You Can, has previous talked about the benefits of using a credit card over a debit card.

“A Visa, Mastercard or American Express…I literally spend the credit card company’s money, I don’t spend my money. My money sits in a money market account earning interest. So the only money I expose every day around the world is a credit card company’s money.”

“When I use my credit card and I pay the bill every month, my credit score goes up so I build credit. When I use my debit card…I’m exposing the money in my account. Every time I use a debit card, I do nothing for my credit, use it for 25 years and it’s not going to raise my credit score.”

 

What if my details have been stolen? 

If you think your details have been stolen there are a few key steps to take depending on what you think might have been compromised.

  • Contact the police. You’ll likely need the police report to resolve things
  • You can contact each of the credit reporting bodies and request a block be put on your credit files. This should prevent your details being used to obtain credit
  • If you think your bank or card details are compromised then contact your bank immediately and change any internet banking passwords you might have
  • If you think any government issued items might be compromised like a driver’s licence or Medicare card, contact the government department
  • It is also worth changing your email and social account passwords

The Government’s ASIC MoneySmart site has some great tips and content on the whole issue of Identity theft here: https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/scams/other-scams/identity-fraud

 

The bottom line is to be aware and proactive.

Take the time to consider how you might be exposing yourself before giving out your personal details. If you’re entering details online, check their security and safeguards and also put your own safeguards in place to protect your identity.

If you find you are the victim of ID theft, act quickly.

 

Worried about your data with Credit Savvy?

Don’t be! The security of your information is extremely important to us. We are dedicated to protecting your personal information through bank-level encryption and constant monitoring. Your personal information will never be shared without your consent. Read more about our data security measures here.

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