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Identity theft

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a type of fraud where someone steals your personal information and uses that information to steal money, gain benefits, apply for a passport, take out loans or conduct other business illegally in your name.

How can my identity be stolen?

There are many ways people can steal your identity. Your personal information is available in personal documents (eg bank statements, utility bills, medical records etc.), in identity documents (eg driver’s licence, passport and other photographic IDs) in emails, in files on your computer and on social networking sites.

Identity thieves may gain access to your information by stealing your wallet, going through your garbage, stealing your mail, hacking into your computer or breaking into your house to steal personal documents.

Identity thieves may also trick you into giving them your personal details. For example, they may send you an email or phone you pretending to collect information on behalf of your bank or utility provider. This is called ‘phishing’.

You should never give out personal information unless you can confirm the identity of the person asking for the information.

How can I protect my identity?

You can take steps to prevent your identity from being stolen.

You should:

  • only carry essential personal documents with you
  • destroy personal documents before putting them in the garbage
  • secure your mailbox
  • always hide your PIN at ATMs or EFTPOS terminals
  • be careful about who you provide your personal information to (eg if you receive a call or email from someone claiming to be your bank asking for personal information, always contact the organisation yourself to check that it is really them)
  • check your banking records carefully
  • check your credit history regularly (see Credit reporting)
  • use secure settings on your social networking sites.

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department has a Protecting your identity guide, which contains information on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

The Australian Government website Stay Smart Online has information about how to protect your personal and financial information online.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian High Tech Crime Centre and Australian Bankers’ Association have created a website with information about how to Protect your financial identity.

What should I do if my bank or credit cards has been stolen?

As soon as you become aware of missing bank or credit cards, you need to notify the bank or credit card provider straight away.

Most banks and financial institutions are subscribers to the ePayments code. The ePayments code protects you from any loss as a result of unauthorised use of your bank and credit cards.

Under the ePayments code, if you notify your bank or financial institution that your card has been lost or stolen within a reasonable period of time you are protected from any loss that occurs as a result of unauthorised use of your cards, unless you are partially responsible for the loss suffered (eg if you did not keep your PIN secret, you acted fraudulently or you accidently left your card in an ATM). Even if you are partially responsible for the loss, your liability may still be limited. You should get legal advice.

If you unreasonably delay telling your bank or financial institution that your card has been lost or stolen, you may not be able to get your money back. You should get legal advice.

If your bank or credit card provider will not reverse an unauthorised payment, you can lodge a dispute with the Financial Ombudsman Service or Credit Ombudsman Service (COSL). You should get legal advice first.

For information about mistaken transactions and unauthorised transactions, see Banking.

If your bank or credit cards are stolen, you may also need to take steps to protect yourself from identity theft.

What should I do if my identity has been stolen?

  1. Report the identity theft to the police.

    If you think your identity has been stolen, you should immediately report it to the police.

    Ask the police for a police reference number and ask them how you can obtain a copy of the police report. You may need to show the police report to banks, financial institutions and government agencies.

  2. Report the loss or theft of any compromised cards or identity information.

    You have a legal responsibility to report suspected theft or fraudulent use of your identity information.

    You should contact the government or private sector organisation who issued the document and let them know if you have lost it or if it has been stolen.

    You may need to contact the following numbers to report lost or stolen documents:

    You can report a suspected fraud relating to Centrelink services by contacting the Centrelink Fraud Tip-off Line on 131 524.

    If your bank or credit cards are lost or stolen, you should report it immediately. See What should I do if my bank or credit cards are stolen?

  3. Get a copy of your credit report.

    You can find out whether your identity information has been used to fraudulently borrow money by getting a copy of your credit report.

    You can get a free copy of your credit report from a credit reporting agency, such as Veda. See Credit reporting.

    If there are any inquiries from companies and organisations on your credit report that you did not authorise, contact those companies and alert the major credit reporting agencies in Australia that you are a victim of identity theft.

    It is possible to correct mistakes or fraud on your credit report by asking the listing organisation who accessed your credit report to support the deletion. If they do not agree, you can ask the credit reporting agency to do it. See How do I fix mistakes on my credit report?

    If you are unhappy with the credit agency’s response, you can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You should get legal advice first.

    You can place an alert on your credit file so that you are notified of all requests for finance. Some credit reporting agencies will charge you a fee for this service.

  4. Stop the use of your credit reporting information.

    If you reasonably believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can make a request to a credit reporting agency, such as Veda, not to use or disclose your credit reporting information.

    The credit reporting agency will put a ban on the use or disclosure of your credit reporting information for 21 days from when the request is made. This is known as a ‘ban period’. You can request that this time be extended if necessary.

    During the ban period, the credit reporting agency will not provide your credit report to any credit providers unless you have consented in writing.

  5. Close all unauthorised accounts and cancel services.

    If you receive accounts or services you didn’t request, cancel the accounts and services and keep a record of the cancellation.

    If you are chased for money for goods or services that you did not order, you should get legal advice.

    If your online email or social networking accounts are hacked, you should close all compromised accounts and report security breaches to the site. Many sites will have a help section that will tell you what to do if your account has been hacked.

  6. Check that your mailing address has not been interfered with.

    Check with Australia Post and all your usual service providers that a redirect has not been placed on your mailing address. You should also contact any government or private organisations that have your address and confirm that they have the correct address.

  7. Apply for a Commonwealth victim’s certificate.

    If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can apply to the magistrates court for Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate.

    A victim’s certificate supports your claim that your identity has been misused. It can be presented to organisations such as government agencies or businesses to help you negotiate with them to resolve any issues caused by the identity theft.

    The Commonwealth Attorney-General Department has information about Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate on their website.

    You should get legal advice.

  8. Dispute any liability arising from the identity theft.

    If someone borrows money or runs up a bill with a utility provider (eg phone, energy or water provider) using your information, you should contact the financial institution or utility provider and dispute the liability on the basis that you did not enter into a contract with the provider.

    You will need to explain that you are the victim of an identity theft. You should provide them with a copy of any police report or Commonwealth victim’s certificate that you have.

    If you are unsatisfied with their response, you can make a complaint to:

    You should get legal advice.

  9. Contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

    If you feel your privacy has been breached or your personal information has been misused by an agency or organisation, you can contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for information about privacy laws.

    If you are unable to resolve the matter with the agency or organisation, you can make a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Acknowledgement - Prepared using a factsheet which is copyright to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department of Australia.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you think you have been the victim of identity theft.

Get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland’s Consumer Protection Unit may provide legal advice about issues concerning identity theft.

The following organisations may also be able to help you.

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to see if they can help with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may also be able to assist with your matter. They do not provide legal advice.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner provides information about privacy and deal with complaints about privacy breaches and misuse of personal information.

Veda is the main credit reporting agency in Australia. Veda can provide you with a free copy of your credit history.

Dun and Bradstreet is one of the major credit reporting agencies in Australia. Dun and Bradstreet can provide you with a free copy of your credit history.

Experian is one of the major credit reporting agencies in Australia. Experian can provide you with a free copy of your credit history.

Tasmanian Collection Service is a credit reporting agency for Tasmanian residents. Tasmanian Collection Service can provide you with a free copy of your credit history.

Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department has a guide on Protecting your identity.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman provides a free alternative dispute resolution service for unresolved complaints about telephone or internet services.

Energy and Water Ombudsman offers a free service to help resolve disputes with electricity, gas or water suppliers.

Credit Ombudsman Service (COSL) is an independent dispute resolution scheme that facilitates the resolution of complaints between consumers and financial services providers who are participants of the scheme. Participants of the scheme include non-bank lenders, finance brokers, credit unions, building societies, debt collection firms, financial planners, trustees, servers, aggregators, mortgage managers etc.

Financial Ombudsman Service provides independent dispute resolution for unresolved complaints about financial services providers.

Scamwatch has information about identity theft.

MoneySmart has information about identity fraud.

Stay Smart Online has information about how to protect your personal and financial information online.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian High Tech Crime Centre and Australian Bankers’ Association have created a website with information about how to Protect your financial identity.

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