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Identity theft occurs when someone accesses your personal and confidential information. This might include things like your name, bank details, date of birth and home address. A criminal will obtain these details in order to steal money or benefit in some other way. Once a criminal has a small amount of personal information about you, they can utilise this to gain more, until eventually they have enough to make job applications or bankcard applications. Once they have enough fake documents, it can make it easier to obtain genuine documents with a different photograph. If you believe someone has stolen your identity, contact your lawyer as soon as possible.

How does identity theft happen?

There are various methods for obtaining your personal information that criminals utilise in their efforts to hijack your identity, including:

  • Using illegal means to hack a business database and obtaining confidential information about you;
  • Getting information by hacking your online banking;
  • You may be ‘phished’, which occurs when you reveal information over the phone/internet to a scammer believing it to be a legitimate business; and
  • Social media hacking.

What are the risks of identity theft?

Criminals have many uses of your personal information, including:

  • Fooling the teller at the bank into giving them access to your accounts;
  • Destroying your credit rating by running up big debts in newly opened bank accounts;
  • Making changes to your banking details (address) so you are unaware that anything has happened until it is too late;
  • Starting up a phone or internet banking account;
  • Claiming government services like Centrelink;
  • Lodging incorrect and fraudulent tax returns, which would prevent you from lodging the correct return;
  • Committing crimes in your name;
  • Defaming you by conducting oneself in an inappropriate manner in a public forum, such as on social media.

Being robbed of your identity can be an extremely stressful experience, especially if your money is accessed. In some cases, recovering your identity once it has been stolen can be quite troublesome. Problems can persist for many years in some cases.

How to respond to identity theft

As soon as you know or suspect your identity has been stolen, contact your lawyer as soon as possible. Also, alert the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, and take all necessary steps to stop the problem before it gets worse:

  1. Tell the police – You should notify the police as soon as possible, even if you cannot yet verify that your identity has been stolen. It is better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Tell the issuing institutions of any stolen documents (including banks) – Once these institutions are put on notice, they can block any unauthorised attempts to change any details or make any withdrawals from any accounts.
  3. Get a copy of your credit history report – This is important, as you will be able to check for any unverified transactions. If you discover any, contact the businesses that allowed them and notify them of your situation.
  4. If you have any unauthorised accounts or online accounts, close them! – This includes things like Facebook, or betting websites.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, even if you follow all of these steps, identity theft can sometimes be almost impossible to prevent.  Seek legal advice on what to do about identify theft and what steps to take to protect yourself from having your identity.

LegalVision cannot provide legal assistance with this topic. We recommend you contact your local law society.

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