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Protecting your identity - what every Australian needs to know

Mon 29 May 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Your identity is as dear to you as your life. It is what empowers you to make connections, engage in social engagements, request credit loans, apply for lucrative job opportunities, create online bank accounts, and more.

Now, imagine having your identity stolen from you without your knowledge. When that happens, it is not just your bank accounts or money that are at risk, but also your social, professional and your personal life.

Identity theft is a type of fraud or online scam that may result in the loss of your bank account details, your social account details, etc. These personal details are then used to carry out different types of cybercrimes which may include criminal activities carried out in your name.

The status of identity theft in Australia

Like many other countries, Australia is also not safe against identity theft. In fact, offline and online identity theft are a common menace in the country. There are a growing number of these cases that have resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to an Abc.net report from 2016, over a million Australian users are robbed off their online identity every year which ultimately cost around $1 billion in damages.

The same report quoted the case of Paul McDonald who lost thousands of dollars of his retirement savings due to identity theft. The hacker stole the email account details of the victim to rob him off his hard-earned savings.

Signs of an identity theft victim

Identity theft is a crime where the victim rarely gets to realise the threat, until the damage is done. However, there are certain warning signs that you may alert you of identity theft:

Social media invasion: One of the most common signs of identity theft is a hacked social media account. If you see any strange posts on your social networks that you are sure you never posted yourself, you may be a victim of identity theft.

Poor credit score: It is important for credit card holders to check their credit scores regularly. These scores are the determining factors in situations where you need to apply for loans. An unexpectedly bad credit score translates into a stolen identity case.

Unfamiliar charges: If you have surplus charges on your debit or credit card, there’s a high chance your identity has been stolen and someone is using it to purchase items without your knowledge.

Unexpected shipments: If you find a package delivered to your doorstep and you are absolutely sure that no one at home has ordered anything, it is most likely due to identity-theft.

How to prevent identity theft

Keep strict tabs on your bank statement: Many people don’t check their monthly bank account statement, until they get a call from their bank regarding irregular transactions. Always check your bank statements to keep an eye out on any unusual activity as it may help you in preventing any major catastrophe.

Beware of phishing attempts: Phishing is a type of social engineering where the fraudster appears as a legitimate individual or organization to con the victim. These attempts are made not just through emails but also through social networks, websites, etc. Make sure you never click any email or URL/link that looks suspicious. Also never share your passwords with anyone because only a hacker or fraudster would be interested in asking for your personal details.

Check privacy status on social media: It is wise to remove any kind of personal information from your social media pages. These portals are created for social engagements, not for opening your personal life to strangers. Also make sure that the privacy settings are set to optimal so that only people in your circle can view what you share online.

Set smartphone privacy: Though irrelevant to identity theft, illegal GPS tracking is also carried out by hackers to track victims. So, turn off the GPS location on your mobile phones when it is not needed to prevent illegal tracking.

Secure your network: More often than not, hacking attempts are aimed at a user's network. To prevent such attempts, the use of firewalls, antivirus and VPNs such as PureVPN, IPVanish, IvacyVPN, NordVPN are highly recommended to secure your device as well as your network connection.

Keeping in mind the above mentioned tips can help you avoid the unfortunate situations of identity theft.

Article by Anas Baig, security expert and journalist. He is a computer science graduate specialising in internet security, science and technology. He is also a security professional with a passion for robots & IoT devices.

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